Spam is an insidious problem for anyone who’s ever used email. Everyone gets occasional unwanted email, but what do you do when you start to get an abnormally high amount of these emails? And what if they are not just unwanted advertising, but something more malicious—like scams or phishing attempts?
What’s a usual amount of spam?
A typical email user might get a couple of spam emails a day, and these are generally unavoidable. But if you get substantially more than a few unwanted marketing or solicitation emails per day, you definitely have a problem. But all is not necessarily lost! First, we’ll talk about how this happened; then, we’ll go over what you can do about it and how to avoid the problem in the future.
So why do I get so much spam?
The number one reason why you’re getting lots of spam is undeniably:
By giving out your email address!
In 95% of cases, you’ve given out your email address to somebody, somewhere, at some time, who has followed up with you directly or sold your information to another party (or both).
Here are some situations where you may have given out your email address:
- Signing up for free products or samples – Nothing is ever completely free, with no strings attached. The way that these companies make money is by using (or selling) your contact information for advertising purposes. Some companies are more legitimate than others, and you may be able to eventually unsubscribe from all their marketing emails; others are more malicious and you may never be able to get them to stop!
- Trying to download free software programs – Like “free” samples, software isn’t ever completely free, either. It takes time and money for developers to write software programs, and there has to be some incentive for them to do so. While there are legitimately free programs from reputable companies, there is a very fine line—and it can be hard to know which ones are truly legitimate.
- “You’ve Won!” pop ups – As much as we’d all love it if any of these prize or sweepstakes winner notifications were true, the cold hard reality is that they are 100% false. We’ve all seen them: “You’re the 1 millionth visitor, congratulations! Click here to redeem your prize!” or something similar. These pop ups are entirely driven by advertising, and typing in your email address will quickly put you on the spam list of tens (if not hundreds) of different senders…and you will never receive any actual prize.
- Posting your email address in any kind of forum – The vast majority of the internet is open and “searchable” by computer programs called “bots.” If you post your email address in your message directly on a public forum, it will most assuredly be found by these bots and added to spam senders’ lists.
While intentionally giving out your email address is by far the most common way to start the spam messages flowing into your inbox, there are a few others that you don’t have quite as much control over:
- Selling email lists – All of the preceding ways you may have given out your email address carry one additional risk. If any of those companies are less than reputable, they may actually be (primarily or secondarily) in the business of selling your contact information. Once your information has been sold, it’s virtually impossible to regain your privacy. Like a viral online video, the chain of spammers who buy and sell your email address will keep branching and spreading exponentially.
- Phishing emails – A “phishing” email is a bogus attempt to deceive you into providing information. If you reply to one of these, or even just click a link inside them, one of the many possible negative outcomes includes confirming with the sender that your email address is a legitimate one. Once you do so, you make yourself one of their prime targets.
- Using Craigslist – Craigslist has taken over the printed newspaper classified ads from the last decade, and it’s a great place to buy and sell your used things. It is also one of the most prowled websites by cyber criminals. It is extremely common to receive fake “phishing” responses to the ads you post, claiming to be an interested buyer. If you reply to these scammers, you set yourself up for your information to be stolen, sold, or worse! [link to guide to spotting craigslist scammers.
- Compromised email databases – You may have read the news stories of companies that have been the targets (and victims) of hackers. These cyber intruders gain access to companies’ private databases of client contact and email information. This is an unfortunate risk we must all be aware of when using the internet. Being cautious about what companies you share your email address with is the best way to mitigate the risk. If you want to find out if your email address has been exposed, the site haveibeenpnwned.com is a great place to check. If you have been compromised, it’s a good idea to change your passwords—especially if you use the same password across multiple websites (a practice we recommend against).
How to stop the spam once your inbox is flooded
Once your email address is on a spammer’s list, it can be mighty difficult to get the deluge of junk mail to stop. This is the type of issue that can spiral completely out of control if you don’t work to stop it as soon as it starts happening.
Don’t just delete or ignore spam!
Stemming the flow of incoming junk mail will require some work on your part. The good news is that after you’ve done the following steps over the course of a few weeks you should have a more manageable inbox going forward—especially if you pay attention to the pitfalls above and tips below to avoid spam from becoming a major issue again.
- Unsubscribe – It is important to stop as many unwanted emails from the legitimate companies to begin to fix your overall issue. However, this is a double-edged sword, because if you click “unsubscribe” links in the body of emails from unscrupulous senders, you may do more harm than good (by confirming your email is a working address). So be careful with this step. Start by carefully looking at each email you receive, and if you recognize the company but don’t want to receive their emails, go ahead and look for the “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” link at the bottom of the email. If you do this diligently for a few weeks, you’ll reduce a great deal of the spam that you receive.
- Mark emails as junk mail – For those emails that you cannot unsubscribe from or that appear to be sent by untrustworthy senders, use your email provider’s tools to designate them as unwanted spam. This usually involves checking a box next to or right clicking each email and choosing the “mark as spam” or “report junk mail” option. These email senders will be saved to a list of “banned” email addresses, which you’ll no longer receive messages from in your inbox. Like opting out, this requires some initial effort and diligence on your part, but it is usually quite effective once you’ve “trained” your filter.
- Use a paid spam filtering service – This is generally only practical for businesses, since implementing a proper spam filtering service is rather technical. It also introduces an additional level of complexity to your business communications systems, which means another possible component to break down, so make sure you use a reputable provider and have a good IT company to contact if something goes wrong. Some of the best 3rd-party email filtering services are provided by Barracuda Networks, ProofPoint, and SolarWinds MaxMail.
- Time for a new email address – This is the last resort, but it will be 100% effective at giving you a clean slate. If you are overwhelmed by spam, it may quite possibly be a step you’ll need to take. It’s not always easy: you will have many websites and logins to update with your new email address and friends, family, and colleagues to share your new email address with. If you’re going down this path, take the opportunity to upgrade your email provider as described in the next section. If you have to implement this drastic measure, make sure you follow the tips in this article to avoid getting a major spam influx in your new inbox!
How to avoid spam in the future
Spam can be one of the most annoying things about email or computing in general, and getting rid of it once it starts can be infuriatingly difficult if not downright impossible. The best thing you can do is to avoid spam in the first place!
- Don’t give out your email address. Obviously, you’ll need to give out your email address for many legitimate reasons. But pay careful attention to all the examples listed in the first section (“So how did this happen?”) and be very cautious about where you share your email address rather than giving it out indiscriminately.
- Have a “disposable” email account. For those times when you can’t be certain of the reputation of a website, it’s a great idea to have a “disposable” email address (one dedicated exclusively to using when you can’t be sure). Personally, I have my primary personal email address that I keep very well guarded and only use with major, trusted, or well-known services. If I ever want to sign up with a lesser-known website or anything else in the list above, I have a dedicated spam email account and use that one instead.
- Upgrade your email provider. Not all email providers are the same quality, and there can be huge differences in the amount of spam you receive, among other differences. I highly, highly recommend using Gmail as your primary personal email service. A close second recommendation is Microsoft, which allows you to use outlook.com, live.com, or Hotmail.com email addresses. Virtually all other free email services fall so far behind in terms of quality of the service that just shouldn’t even consider them. Among all the features of an email service, the quality of spam filtering is directly determined by how competent and reputable your chosen email provider does; these two are by far on top of the list.
At Dymin Systems, we can help you block and filter spam emails and protect your system against viruses, malware, and other internet security issues that can come along with them. If you’re a business, our professional managed IT services plan can help protect your company computer network and business machines from these ever-changing threats and time-wasting nuisances. If you’re an individual home computer user, our in-store and in-home repair services will help clean up your computer and keep it running its best.
Contact us online today or give us a call at (800) 811-3661 to find the spam-fighting plan that’s right for you. We are a full-spectrum IT services and computer repair company serving residential and business customers in the greater Des Moines area.