Email spam is an especially common and pernicious kind of unwanted communication—it costs almost nothing for the sender to blanket the rest of us with unwanted messages that fill our inboxes and waste our time and bandwidth.
How should you respond when facing an email inbox full of unwanted spam? Start with the most important rule:
First of all, don’t respond to the email
That’s right, the first, best rule when responding to unwanted email is NOT to respond. Don’t click reply.
For one thing, even clicking on a SPAM email may send a confirmation to the sender that you viewed their message.
This confirmation tells the sender’s system that your email address is valid. Anything you do to confirm your email address for a spammer will lead to more spam.
So don’t click on or respond to unwanted spam to avoid getting even more.
Delete suspicious emails without clicking
When it comes to spam email, if it looks suspicious, it’s probably a scam. Be aggressive about deleting unwanted spam—if you have any doubts about the provenance of an email, listen to those doubts and just delete the message.
If a message comes from someone you know but looks suspicious, contact them in some other way to see if they really sent you the message. It’s common for one’s mail account to be compromised and used to send more spam, so even if you know the sender, be skeptical until you verify a message is legitimate.
Report suspicious email as spam
In some cases, a spam message might be worth reporting. There are a few extra steps to take if you’re going to report spam, so first decide if this message is worth reporting at all.
If the message appears to come from someone you know, don’t report it. Simply let the person know their email account may have been compromised or spoofed. Reporting spam in these cases will only lock your contact out of his/her email account and won’t affect the spammer at all.
If a message is a scam or fraudulent, reporting it won’t do much—the sender is anonymous, probably sending from a location with no enforcement, and there’s little chance your report will have any impact.
Reporting spam works when the sender is legitimate, and you can identify them. It’s important that you unsubscribe or ask the sender to stop sending you unwanted messages. If they fail to stop spamming you, then you can go ahead and report them.
As you can see already, there is a problem—we told you not to even click on or respond to spam, but if you’re going to report spammers, you have to ask them to stop or unsubscribe first.
The bottom line is, if the email is a scam or fraudulently sent, you won’t want to click or respond, and reporting won’t do much. If an email is legitimate but unwanted, then you can respond and ask the sender to unsubscribe you or stop sending. If they don’t honor your request, report them.
Where to report spam or scam emails
1. Your service provider
Your email provider will likely have their own method of reporting or marking messages as junk or spam. There are too many providers to cover here but do some research with your email service and figure out how to mark unwanted messages.
2. The sender’s email service
Whoever provides the email service for the sender should be included in any report—if you can tell who the provider is. If the provider uses a service like Gmail or yahoo, then you can usually forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org (or substitute Gmail for the provider involved).
3. The FTC
You can report spam to the FTC in a few ways. If the email is a fraudulent attempt to solicit money in any way, you can visit reportfraud.ftc.gov, and file a complaint there. You may see references to SPAM@uce.gov as a place to send spam, but the FTC has retired that inbox, and the reportfraud.ftc.gov link is currently the right place to go.
Mark safe messages as “not junk”
If you sign up for a newsletter or other desired email from a trusted sender, take the step of marking the message as not junk. Depending on your provider there are different ways to achieve this. Look up how to whitelist a sender with your provider for steps.
It’s important to mark safe messages so you get the email you signed up for and can rely on your inbox to show you only trusted messages. Blocking the bad mail is only one part of the process of limiting spam.
Use multiple emails
Email accounts are free, typically, so don’t hesitate to sign up for multiple accounts.
Gmail in particular can be a good option, since Google provides plenty of free storage space to hold your messages.
You might have a primary email you only share with trusted contacts, and then a second Gmail account you use when shopping or signing up for email newsletters.
Use a private relay service to sign-in
Another way to have multiple email addresses is to use a private relay service. Users of Firefox browser can look for “Firefox Relay” to set this up, or some apps and sites use the “sign in with Apple” service that sets up a private relay for your email.
How this works is when providing your email online, the service creates a new, unique email address that forwards messages to your inbox. The sender doesn’t know your actual email address, only the alias. If an alias gets into the hands of a spammer, you can delete it and you’ll get no more of those messages forwarded to your real inbox.
These private relays are developing as we speak, so it’s likely more free options will be available soon. So, it’s probably not something you want to pay extra for in the short term.
Dealing with spam is the toughest of all unwanted communications. Ultimately, there’s a very standard set of best practices to prevent spam:
- Don’t respond to spam
- Don’t click links in spam
- Use a secondary email account or private relay
- Don’t share your primary email address online
- Use spam filters from your email provider or email application
- Mark spam and mark legit messages as “not spam”
- Block unwanted senders who do get through to your inbox
This is a lot of work, we know. And it’s ongoing work, as the spammers will keep working to find ways to get their messages in front of you. If you’re ready to do a bit of extra maintenance on your inbox, you can reduce the amount of spam you get while letting useful email reach you.
If you’ve gotten malware or been compromised through a malicious email, you might want to check out your credit report to ensure no one has opened any new accounts in your name. Check out our free “Identity Theft Prevention” course, or call us for a credit report review today.