Are you tired of receiving spam emails? Your email can be thought of as the online equivalent of your home address. Receiving letters, flyers, promotions, coupon packs, pamphlets, etc., in your inbox without permission can be exasperating. What can you do if you want to stop these spammers?
An excellent way to exact spam email revenge is to help train spam filters by marking unwanted emails as junk mail. Scammers’ mailing lists and mass email systems have become advanced. Users can use email forwarding services and so-called “email bankruptcy” as the best ways to fight spam messages.
But what are the dos and don’ts of handling spam email? Read on to find out.
Why Spammers Spam
Spam emails are unsolicited emails, usually sent in bulk to an extensive list of recipients. While you generally shouldn’t open emails from someone you don’t know, it can be difficult to tell whether an unsolicited email is legitimate or junk mail.
Spammers can increase their chance of success by targeting specific individuals using personal information they’ve gathered on their target to improve the appearance of legitimacy. For example, spammers can deceive individuals by sending spam messages disguised as an email from a reputable company or institution. This practice is known as email phishing. Spammers may trick victims into revealing their sensitive personal information, such as passwords, phone number, or bank details.
Do recipients actually still fall for spam? Sam Cook at comparitech.com has a good rundown of phishing statistics and facts for 2019-2021 aggregated from official reports by various internet and security companies. The article points out:
“Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report found that phishing is one of the top threat action varieties in data breaches, with 22 percent of data breaches involving phishing. In its 2021 report, the prevalence of social engineering attacks, including phishing, continued on an upward trend accounting for around 30% of attacks.”
But not every spam email is for the purpose of stealing data. People can also send spam emails to make money by mass advertising companies or online merchants.
Unlike physical mail, it costs nothing to send an email, so it can also be done quickly and in bulk. If a spam recipient buys something, the spammer gets a percentage of the sale. Even if only a tiny percentage of recipients end up opening a link in a spam email, it can still be worthwhile considering the minimal amount of time and money necessary.
I’ve already talked about phishing emails, but you could also receive scam emails with links or attachments that contain ransomware and other malware. Here’s that previous article about what could happen when you interact with spam email and how to protect yourself.
This leads us to the next section…
Spam Email Revenge Tactics & Tools
The best tactic to deal with large quantities of spam is to simply mark messages as spam and train your email provider’s spam filters. Email services will usually allow you to either drag and move an email to your Spam folder or give you an option to report spam.
For example, when you report spam in a service like Gmail, Google will use your reports and train their spam detection algorithms accordingly over time.
Another reason why you may receive spam messages in your email account is so spammers can gather a list of active email addresses. This is known as email harvesting.
In this situation, spammers can sell the gathered email addresses to other spammers, causing you to get even more spam emails – some of which can be malicious. A spammer knows you have an active email address when you click on a link inside the email, including any “unsubscribe” links that may be included.
Never click the unsubscribe button in an email unless you know the company sending the messages.
If you want to report a message or block the sender, do so through the options given by your email provider, NOT by clicking a link within an email.
Reporting spam to government agencies – such as the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice – is usually not worthwhile. Similarly, while it may be tempting to think about ways to get revenge on bad actors, it probably isn’t worth it for a lot of people.
Comedian James Veitch performed a hilarious sketch on what happens when you reply to spam.
Obviously, I do not recommend trying to exact revenge on spammers as James suggests.
The better option for people tired of getting so much email spam is to clean up their inbox and then take steps to avoid future spam emails.
How To Clean Up Spam Email
If you’re getting spam emails regularly, the first step you should take is to set aside some time to sort through your inbox and start marking those emails as spam.
While you’re sorting, start looking for general patterns. We can use standard senders to set up email filters to help auto-mark or auto-delete emails.
For example, suppose a specific email address frequently sends you unwanted emails. In that case, you can set up an email filter so that all new messages by that address will be automatically sent to your email’s trash folder.
Worst case, you can get a new inbox if you’re being flooded by too many spam emails from too many different senders. By declaring “email bankruptcy,” you switch to an unknown email address that spammers are unaware of.
Here are some general steps to perform after opening your new email account:
- Send an email from your new address to family and friends.
- Try to be close to Inbox Zero, so you don’t get overwhelmed in the future.
- Log into the website of companies you do business with and update your account.
- Go back to your old inbox 1-2 times per month to see if you missed anything valuable.
- Do not forward email (manually or automatically) from your old address to the new inbox.
Avoiding Future Spam Email
One of the easiest ways to decrease your chances of ending up on some spammer’s list is to stop signing up for free stuff – free trials, free newsletters, free gift cards, whatever it is. Your personally identifiable information is valuable. You should always be cautious about giving away your personal information to anyone who hasn’t proven themselves trustworthy, and that information includes your email address.
If you still have the urge to sign up for something, and you think the source might be legitimate, but you’re not sure, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
You could, for example, use an open inbox service like Maildrop, which provides free disposable email addresses. Not only will this service provide a quick and disposable email address for you, but also notice that it doesn’t require you to sign-up or create an account to use it.
Again, this goes back to the bolded point: be wary about services that purport to help you manage your email, but ask for your personal information to use them. These sites may not be trustworthy and could end up actually worsening the amount of email spam you receive, so doing your research is always recommended.
But what if you want to sign up for a service and you’re expecting regular communication instead of something like a one-time email verification? In that case, you can use a proxy email service like SimpleLogin to protect your inbox against spam and phishing. This works by using email aliases, which instead of storing emails, forward incoming messages to your personal email. If a service asks for your email address and you give an alias instead of your real email, any mail sent to the alias will be forwarded to your inbox so that your real email stays hidden.