Some ask for monetary donations. Some suggest you will be locked out of your account if you do not click this link. Some promise to enhance or slim down various body parts. We’re all familiar with these unwanted messages, but what we really want to know is how to stop spam emails from inundating our inbox and driving us mad. Luckily, there are multiple ways to address the situation and restore some peace to your chaotic email. Here, five spam-filtering methods you can try, plus additional advice on how to prevent spammers from acquiring your info in the first place.
Note: While spam typically refers to phishing schemes that seek to obtain personal or financial information, we also have tips on how to deal with unsolicited emails from less nefarious sources (like retailers you don’t remember subscribing to) that are more often called junk mail.
7 Tricks for Spotting Spam
1. Check the sender’s address
Most spam comes from complex or non-sensical emails like sephoradeals@tX93000aka09q2.com or email@example.com. Hovering over the name of the sender, which might also look odd (aka, there’s irregular capitalization or spelling), will show you the full email address. You can also Google the exact email address, and the results will often tell you if it's legit or not.
2. Check the subject line
Anything that sounds overly aggressive or threatening, advertises medications not yet approved by the FDA, promises compromising photos of famous names or purports to have incriminating evidence against you is almost definitely spam.
3. Real companies will always use your real name
If the email doesn’t contain your name, your name is spelled incorrectly or it’s incredibly vague, that should be taken as a red flag. If Netflix really needed you to update your billing information, it would address you by the name your account is under, not “Valued Customer.”
4. Pay attention to grammar and spelling
Look for weird phrasing, words being misused or broken sentences. “Please be informed that transfer time is limited sequel to policy, therefor you are advised to attend as soon as your read this email and also reconfirm your full details to them,” is not a sentence any real company would ever write (and, yes, this was pulled word-for-word from an actual spam email).
5. Confirm the information independently
Not sure whether that Chase email about suspicious activity on your account is legit or not? Don’t reply or click through any of the links. Instead, verify the info by logging into your online banking account or calling your credit card company and handling any issues that way.
6. Are they asking for personal information right away
Real companies and businesses would never ask you to confirm your social security number, credit card information or other sensitive details over email. It’s also rarely the case that someone would need to “update user information” immediately. If there really is some need to update a password or the like, follow step five and do so independently by opening a new tab.
7. If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is
Oh, a distant relative left you large sums of money and all you have to do is reply with all your banking information? You won a giant prize in a contest you don’t remember entering? Chris Hemsworth spotted you in a restaurant and needs to see you again ASAP? Sorry, but that’s definitely not true.
How to Deal with Spam in Your Inbox
1. Train your inbox
Simply deleting spam emails won’t stop them from appearing in your inbox (nor will replying, but more on that later). However, you can train your email client to recognize which emails you actually want to see and which you consider junk. The way to do this is by using your server’s spam reporting features.
In Gmail, you can do this by clicking the square to the left of whichever email you want filtered, then selecting Report Spam from the top bar (the button looks like a stop sign with an exclamation point on it). It’s a similar process for Microsoft Outlook; just select the suspicious email, then click on Junk>Junk in the upper left to send it to your junk folder. Yahoo users should select any unwanted emails, then click the More icon and select “Mark as Spam.”
Doing this alerts your email client that you don’t recognize the sender and don’t want to hear from them. Over time, your inbox should learn to automatically filter any emails like the ones you’ve been flagging into your spam folder, which automatically deletes anything that’s been in there for longer than 30 days. (Psst, you should also go through your spam folder every once in a while, to ensure that emails you do want aren’t actually ending up in there.)
2. Don’t interact with spam
The less you interact with spam emails (or calls or texts, for that matter) the better. Opening, replying to or clicking the links within an email just alerts the spammer to the fact that this is an active account they should continue to inundate with messages. The best thing you can do is to flag these messages using the methods above and to leave it at that.
3. Try a third-party program to help
There are a bunch of apps that can be employed to help protect you from spam or weed out spammers that already have your info. Mailwasher and SpamSieve are two great options, both of which allow you to review incoming mail before it actually hits your inbox. Like your email client, both apps learn over time and become better and better at sorting the things you actually want to see from the things you consider spam.
For handling junk mail, you can try something like Unroll.Me, which makes it significantly easier to mass unsubscribe from unwanted emails. This free service scans your inbox for any and all email subscriptions which you can then choose to unsubscribe from, keep in your inbox or add to what’s called a rollup, which is one email sent in the morning, afternoon or evening and includes all your subscriptions at a glance. The rollup is great for brands you are interesting in hearing from (gotta keep tabs on those Madewell sales) but don’t necessarily want cluttering up your inbox. Another option is to create a folder that filters any emails containing the word “unsubscribe” out of your inbox, so you can deal with them later.
4. Use an alternate email address moving forward
Fun fact, Gmail doesn’t recognize periods in email addresses so anything sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org all go to the same inbox. One clever way to work around instances in which your email address may have been sold to spammers is to use a version of your email that contains periods any time you sign up for something (like using a guest checkout at a new brand or to get a free trial). Then just create a folder that filters anything addressed to that alternate email out of your inbox. This can also be a good way to figure out where spammers are getting your information from in the first place.
You can also create an independent email with a completely new name just for shopping or handling memberships. Most email servers make it incredibly easy to link multiple accounts so you can quickly switch from one inbox to another without having to log in and out all over again.
5. Abandon ship
If all else fails and you’re still receiving enough spam emails to render your inbox impossible to use, it may be time to switch over to an entirely new account. Be sure to update your information anywhere your real email address is necessary (your Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, online banking account, Aunt Linda’s rolodex) and inform any friends or family of the change.
3 TIPS TO HELP PREVENT SPAMMERS FROM FINDING YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IN THE FIRST PLACE
1. Don’t post your email address
For instance, avoid sharing your email in public spaces, like social media accounts, LinkedIn pages or personal websites. If your job requires you to publicize your email or you want to be easily contactable to non-spammers, consider writing it out in a different way, i.e. “Jane Doe at Gmail dot com” or “JaneDoe @ Google email” rather than email@example.com.
2. Think before you enter your email
Signing up for tons of message forums or buying something from a somewhat sketchy international retailer probably isn’t a great idea, especially is these websites aren’t widely recognized or reputable.
3. Consider installing a third-party app
Plugins like Blur work by essentially creating a fake middleman so websites can’t collect your real information. For example, if you go to make a purchase at Madewell and elect to use Blur, the Madewell email database will record the fake address provided by Blur rather than your new one. Any emails Madewell sends this fake address get forwarded to your real inbox where you can decide how to handle them. In this instance if anyone ever hacked the Madewell database, your real email remains safe.