Have you ever received an email you didn’t expect – or want? You’re not alone. Sooner or later, nearly everyone encounters some form of spam. Spam is a broad category of unwanted, usually mass-distributed email correspondence. Some spam is merely a nuisance; but spam can also be malicious, with the goal of phishing, identity theft, or infecting your computer with malware. Since it can be difficult to know which is which, you should consider all spam to be potentially harmful.
The following techniques can help you safely handle any spam that comes your way.
- Be mindful of where you share your email address online.
- Don’t use your primary email to sign up for free stuff.
On the internet, “free” stuff can come with an unforeseen cost. Spammers can use phony sweepstakes, contests, and promises of free products to convince you to hand over your email address. If you must enter an online contest, create a special email address for such purposes. That way, if spammers target that address, you won’t have to deal with the inconvenience or the security risk of sorting through spammy messages.
- Create spam filters.
All major email clients allow you to create custom filters to control what types of incoming messages reach your inbox. Check with your email service for guides on setting up filters to flag or delete suspicious messages.
- Beware of unknown senders or suspicious subject lines.
Spam can come from strange-looking email addresses (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org) or from senders that seem legitimate, with a person’s name or company name in the “from” field. Spam can even come from someone you know, if their account has been compromised. If you’re not expecting the email, don’t recognize the sender, or find the subject line suspicious, it’s safest not to open the message.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Don’t be fooled by emails claiming to contain lottery winnings, free vacations, or anything else you didn’t sign up for. You’re much more likely to be the recipient of spam than to mysteriously win a contest you didn’t enter.
What to do if you accidentally open spam
- Don’t respond.
If you ignore and delete spammy messages, the spammer will eventually assume your email address isn’t active and move on to spamming someone else.
- Don’t click links within the email — even “unsubscribe” links.
Helpful tip: you can hover your mouse over a link to see the destination URL. If the URL doesn’t match the link text, or if it’s not a site you know is reputable, don’t click it. Even “unsubscribe” links aren’t safe, as they can inform the spammer that your email address is active — leading to, you guessed it, more spam.
- Report the message as spam and delete it.
If a fishy message makes it through your spam filters, mark/report it as spam. This can help your email client to filter similar messages in the future.
Receiving spam is almost inevitable, but falling victim to phishing attempts and malware isn’t. Think twice before clicking, opening, or responding to suspicious emails to keep your computer and your sensitive information safe.