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A Guide to Combating Spam on a Simple Machines Forum

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Account Abandoned:
Combating Spam on a Simple Machines Forum (Version 2.0)
By: Shawn J. Gossman (

When I visit the SMF support forums, I frequently see new topics all over the place over spam and how to stop it from happening on forums. I decided than a good article on all spam combat options on an SMF 2.0 forum would be a great thing to write. I am sure there are other articles on this but I thought I would give it a shot as well.

First, we need to understand what spam is. Spam is unauthorized or annoying advertising topics and posts that usually come from spam bots, human spammers and even members who don’t even realize they are spamming the forum. Spam is a big annoyance on the internet in general; a common occurrence in email and many online communities and social networks are often hit with a lot of spam every day. There are ways to combat spam and especially on SMF 2.0 powered message forums.

SMF’s built-in features to help reduce spam

In your forum’s Administration panel, under Security and Moderation (hover over the Configuration tab), there is a link to Anti-Spam. You should click on this link to go to the built-in anti-spam features that SMF has to offer. Here, you can adjust all the anti-spam features that SMF has to offer. You can decide whether or not guests have to fill out a verification (CAPTCHA Code) on registration, guest searches, guests reporting of posts, guest posting (I recommend to NOT allow guest posts due to spamming) and you can even require verification until a member reaches a certain amount of posts. You should check most of these boxes. However, you should know that CAPTCHA should not be taken as your single line of defense against spam as it is often broken through by spam bots and human spammers.

So this is a good time to move down to the Configure Verification Options and Verification Questions (on the Anti-Spam page). I wouldn’t be so worried about what to set the Verification Images to be (I personally choose simple) but I would enable the Questions Verification as this feature is often one of the best lines of defense on an SMF community. SMF really made a great choice by implementing this anti-spam feature. I personally set mine to where a new member only has to answer one question. You can choose how many you want but I would keep it 1 to 3 questions only so a real member doesn’t have to be annoyed by having to answer a bunch of verification questions.

When you create your questions, don’t make simple ones and stay away from math problems. Math problems on these systems are often beat by spammers and often too hard for people to answer. I myself am not good at math at all and if the question is too hard, I just choose not to register because of that and that is bad for marketing. Instead, make your questions have to do with your niche. You can make them a bit difficult to answer if related to your niche because most likely, people will look the answer up (the real members that is) because they are taking interest in the niche and want to learn more about it. I would also make as many questions and answers as you can so that you don’t have the same ones over and over again which could be beaten by spammers eventually.

SMF’s Registration Options

Now you should go to your Administration panel on your SMF community and hover over the Members tab. Then hover over Registration… and then Settings. Here you can do some more to combat spam. You can the Method of registration for users. I suggest Email Activation and what this means is that a user will join and then be sent a link in their email (the one they used to join with) and it will require them to activate their account. Many times, spam bots and such use fake emails that don’t work when attempting to join forums. If the email doesn’t work, how will they activate the account!? You could also choose Admin Approval which will require you and/or other Administrators to manually approve new members when they join. This is a decent way to combat spam but if membership registration rates get high, this method can become overwhelming at times.

I also suggest checking the option to notify you of a new registration. It will send you an email every time there is a new membership. This is good because you can go review the member if you are able and watch them to make sure they are not spammers or to activate their account, etc. pending what setting you have enabled for the Method of registration. I also suggest that you enable COPPA, for one it can get you out of legal situations that really do happen. Another reason, if you reject under a certain age, many spammers who fill out a birthday that is under the age limit will be rejected from joining. Any way you can prevent spam is a way to follow, in my opinion.

Third-party modifications to help combat spam

One of the modifications that I always suggest people add to their SMF community is the Stop Forum Spam modification. This blocks so many spammers from joining that it isn’t even funny. I just suggest not scanning for usernames as some of the most common usernames are listed as spam names. This could make you lose a lot of real potential members if you enable it to scan for usernames. I think setting it to scan for IP addresses and emails is well enough to make the system work for you. There is also other modification such as one that use Project Honey Pot, Askimet, Bad Behavior Mod, Delete Spam Posts, Photo CAPTCHA and Stop Spammer Mod.

When installing these third-party modifications, it is important to know if the version is compatible with your version of SMF. The ones above are compatible with version 2.0 from what I read; those are all the spam modification I could find for SMF 2.0 in their modifications database. I would also read all the reviews, support discussions and a comment of each modification to make sure it’s as good as it is listed to be.

The importance of staff members and active owners

All the methods listed above will greatly help you reduce spam on your SMF 2.0 community. However, it may not keep all the spam out. There is no such thing as software that blocked all spam 100% and if anyone tells you there is, they are wrong. The best method to block spam is human intelligence. This means that being active on your community and having active staff that constantly look for spammers and spam posts will be your best method of combatting spam. This will especially help for human spammers as they will see an active team that doesn’t put up with spam on their forums. It is a great deterrence for some human spammers.

I really hope this article helps you better understand ways to combat spam on version 2.0 of the Simple Machines Forum software. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on my articles and anymore suggestions you may have to help prevent or combat spam on SMF. You may redistribute my article on other websites as long as you keep my name and link (below title) intact and a link back to this original article. Thank you for reading my article and good luck with your forums!

Chris Burgess:
Great advice, and perfect timing for me as I had just started my SMF forum and just received my first spammers.

One thing you didn't cover though is what you would recommend to do with member accounts guilty of spamming. Ban them? On email address, or ip etc.? Just delete the account? I'd love to hear some advice on this.

Account Abandoned:
Well this article was mainly on combating the spam bots. For what to do, I would ban spammers by username, IP and email address. :) Thanks for reading!

Nice guide :)

Account Abandoned:
Thank you Dr. Deejay! :) I hope it helps some of the new SMF owners out a bit!


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