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How to Stop Junk Email (Ultimate Spam Prevention Guide)

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According to a report from technology market research firm The Radicati Group, we're getting more spam today than ever before. 

In 2015, the average number of spam messages received by an average business person was 12 each day. By 2017, the average number of spam messages received each day had risen to 16—that's a significant increase in only a few years.

Do you need to stop getting spam and junk emails
Do you need to stop getting spam and junk emails? (graphic source)

If you count email lists you subscribe to and no longer want, the average number of unwanted junk emails you receive jumps dramatically.

Unwanted email is more than annoying. Spam is a huge problem for businesses, especially when you consider that spam is often a vehicle for phishing schemes and other types of email fraud. It's also a huge waste of your time—especially if a spam message appears to be legit at first. Plus, all those email subscriptions you no longer want could keep you from seeing an important message that you need.

In this article, you'll learn seven methods that'll help you to reduce the number of unwanted junk email messages you receive each day. In the process, you'll save time—which helps you to be more productive.

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Now, let's look at how to stop getting junk and spam email—with seven ways to quickly reduce the number of unwanted messages you receive in your inbox:

1. Maximize Your Filter Use

Nearly every professional email service offers a filter service. Learn how to make the most of yours:

In Microsoft Outlook, for example, you can set up rules to send newsletters you subscribe to directly to a designated folder. This keeps them out of your main email inbox. That way, you can review them at your leisure. Microsoft Outlook also has a built-in Junk Email filter that sends suspected spam messages to your Junk Email folder. You can also change the level of filtering you have set up.

Yahoo Mail sends all email through a spam filter before any rules are applied. Suspected spam messages are automatically sent to a Spam folder. They also provide you with the ability to set up folders to receive certain types of emails.

Gmail includes tools for filtering email and blocking spam as well. For a complete tutorial on how to filter email messages in Gmail, study this Envato Tuts+ tutorial:

Spam protection is often included with firewalls and antivirus software. Check yours to make sure that this feature is activated.

2. Don't Click Links or Respond to Spam

It may seem obvious that spam messages shouldn't be responded to and links shouldn't be clicked. This isn't as easy as you might think. Spam authors often go to extreme measures to make spam email look legit. The subject line of a spam message may claim that there's a problem with your bank, or it may announce that you've won a valuable prize.

When you receive a message, even a legitimate one, look at it carefully before you open it. Here are some clues that an email message might be spam:

  1. You don't recognize the sender address. The sender address may resemble a sender address you know and trust. When you look at it closely, though, you realize it's off a little bit. The corporate name may be slightly misspelled. There may be weird characters in the email address. I once received an email that looked as if it came from a family member. When I looked at the domain name closely, I realized that my family member didn't have an email registered at that domain.
  2. The subject line makes outrageous claims. Spammers hope to lure you into opening their email with the message subject line. They play upon your fears by claiming something is wrong (like financial problems or trouble with a password) or your greed (by offering a prize). The subject line may even include the word: Urgent. This is designed to get your attention. Don't let yourself become a victim of these kinds of attempts.
  3. The email is full of spelling errors and poor grammar. Real businesses typically check their messages carefully for errors before they send them. They should catch most, if not all, mistakes. Spammers are in a rush and just want to get the message out there so they can continue whatever scheme they're trying.
  4. The message contains an attachment. Never open an attachment from a sender you don't know and trust. Malware is often built into spam messages with attachments. Opening an attachment to a spam message could expose your system to a computer virus, worm, or other type of cyber-attack. 

So what happens if you click a link or respond to a spam message? Besides the obvious direct threats (malware, viruses, etc.), clicking or responding to a message alerts the sender that they've reached an active email. It also lets them know that their threat or offer was somewhat effective—either you're afraid there's the trouble the email threatened or you're hopeful you'll win an unexpected prize. Either way, you can now expect to receive even more spam messages.

Sometimes even opening a spam message is enough to alert the spammer that your mailbox is active and regularly monitored. While there are legitimate uses of email tracking software that tells email senders whether a message has been opened or read, spammers sometimes use these same tools for illicit purposes. 

To learn more about email tracking software, study our helpful tutorial on: How to Know If Someone Has Opened and Read Your Email

3. Don't Publish Your Email (+More Security Tips)

Have you ever wondered how spammers get your email address? Here are some common methods spammers use to get email addresses:

  • They find it online. If you've got a website, a social media presence, or just an online profile, your email address is probably published on the Internet. If your email is online, scammers can use scanning software to find it.
  • They generate random email addresses. The spammer may not have your email address at all. They may be using software to generate possible email addresses for a domain name. It would take forever to do this manually, but software can generate email address possibilities quickly.
  • They buy lists. Some unscrupulous companies and organizations sell lists of email addresses from their files. While this practice may seem unethical, you may unwittingly give a company permission to do this when you sign up with them.

Reduce the likelihood that a spammer gets your email by taking the following precautions:

  • Don't publish your email online. This can be tricky, since many of us rely on the Internet for business. But there are ways around it. Have prospects fill out a contact form on your website, for example. This lets you see their email address before they see yours. Also, since email scraping and scanning software often looks for the @ symbol, describe your email rather than give it to keep it from getting scraped. Software is less likely than a human to decipher "[my name] at [this domain]".
  • Limit who you give your email to. Whether you sign up for a service, make an online purchase, or enter a contest, you'll probably be asked to provide your email address. If it's optional and you don't think they need it, don't provide it.
  • Pay attention when you do give your email out. When you provide your email address, study the privacy policies and other notifications. Often, consumers unwittingly agree to receive messages from "partner companies" because they don't read the notifications when they open their account. If you can, opt out of receiving partner messages to reduce the volume of email received. 
  • Consider using a disposable email. A disposable email allows you to sign up for services or other accounts without providing your email information. It also allows you to send an email or post a comment online anonymously. Usually, they're temporary or throwaway accounts. To learn more about disposable accounts, review our tutorial: Beginner’s Guide to Disposable Email Addresses.

4. Make Use of Email Security Measures

Junk mail often consists of hackers trying to access your email account using a technique called phishing. By sending a junk email that appears to be legit, they try to get you to share personal information—such as your email password.

Believe me, the last thing you want is for hackers to get into your email account. Hackers and fraudsters target your email account because it may contain other sensitive information. You may receive bills or account statements through email that include your account number. Or they may use your email to reset the password on some of your other accounts—locking you out and giving them access.

Setting up strong passwords is one of the most essential email security measures you can take. It ensures that only you can access and send messages from your email account. The following article discusses Gmail passwords, but some of the principles also apply to other email providers as well:

If you send a lot of sensitive material or financial data through email, consider email encryption to keep others from gaining access to your messages. Some email providers provide encryption as part of their service, but many don't. To learn more about email encryption, study our tutorial series: It's Time to Encrypt Your Email

5. Block and Report Spam

Most email services allow you to block messages from certain senders. Many also allow you to flag a message as spam.

If your email provider offers these services, take advantage of them. You may think that deleting a spam message is enough, but all that does is remove one message from your inbox.

When you block messages from a certain sender, that sender cannot use that same email address to send you more messages. (Of course, there's nothing that keeps them from continuing to spam you using a different email address.)

When you flag a message as spam, you may be helping to strengthen the email provider's anti-spam filter. Not every email provider handles messages flagged as spam the same way. For many providers, if a lot of people report the same email address for spam, that email account may be suspended by the provider.

The potential harsh consequences for the sender are one reason why it's important to remember that not every unwanted message you receive is spam.

For example, if you signed up for a newsletter several years ago, but no longer read it and don't want to get it any longer, that's not spam. That's a legitimate newsletter you signed up for. Likewise, if you ordered a pizza and didn't notice that you opted in to receive promotions from the pizza company—that's not spam. The best way to deal with legitimate mailing lists you no longer want to be on is to unsubscribe. Let's look at that.

6. Unsubscribe to Unwanted Messages

The laws vary depending on where you're located, but in many locations commercial email senders must provide the recipient with a way to opt out of receiving commercial emails. That means when you get an email from someone who wants your business, that same email should also include a way for you to be removed from the list for similar emails.

Commercial email messages include newsletters, promotional messages, and other messages asking you for your business.

The most common type of opt-out that you'll see is an unsubscribe link, which is usually found at the bottom of a commercial email message. Here's an example of an unsubscribe link from the bottom of one of the emails I received in my Yahoo Email account:

Unsubscribe from email newsletter link

When you click on an Unsubscribe link, you'll usually be taken to a screen that confirms that you no longer wish to receive emails from the organization.

Be cautious about using the Unsubscribe link. Some spam messages also include unsubscribe links. Instead of unsubscribing you from the spammer's email list, the link may take you to a site that attacks your computer. Even if you're not taken to an attack site, the spammer can get a lot of information about you and your computer when you click on the link.

So, while clicking the Unsubscribe link can be a good way to stop getting messages from legitimate businesses, it can also be dangerous if it happens to be in an email sent by a spammer. If you recognize the sender and know for sure that you once signed up to get the messages (such as with a newsletter), go ahead and use the Unsubscribe link. If you don't recognize the sender or suspect the email isn't legitimate, don't click Unsubscribe.

There are also tools that can help you to manage your email subscriptions. One such tool is Unroll.me, which analyzes your inbox, identifies your subscriptions, and combines them into a single daily message. You can also use the tool to unsubscribe from subscriptions you don't want. 

Note: Keep in mind, though, that while Unroll.me is a popular and easy-to-use service, its business model may involve selling anonymized user data to other companies. This is something to consider carefully before signing up. Learn more about the issue as covered in the New York Times. Also, if you have Unroll.me set up on your Gmail account but would like to remove it, here's how.

7. Delete Your Email Account

As a last resort, if your email account has become overrun with unwanted messages, you may need to delete it.

It seems drastic, but sometimes deleting your email account and starting fresh is the only thing to do. If the number of unwanted emails you receive greatly exceeds the number of wanted emails, it might be time to take this step.

Before you delete an email account, review the messages in it that you want to receive. Be sure to let these senders know of your new email address. Also, remember to change your email address on any accounts that are linked to your old email address or you could lose access to those accounts if you forget your password.

Most email platforms let you delete your account easily. As an example, the instructions for deleting an email account in Gmail are in this tutorial:

Conclusion

You now know how to stop getting junk email. With the methods described here, you're not defenseless against spam or other unwanted email messages. Take control of your inbox to keep from getting email you don't want.

Don't waste any more time on junk email. Start using several, or all, of the techniques in this article today. 

Also, review this Envato Tuts+ tutorial on email management strategies or download our free PDF eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's available for free with a subscription to the Tuts+ Business newsletter.

Download Free PDF eBook on Inbox Email Management

Disclaimer: Note that I'm not an information security expert. This post is based on a compilation of recommended best practices and my own experiences as an email user.

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