SPAM, SPAM, SPAM? DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!Spam! We all get it, via email, texts and calls. Some of it arrives from genuine companies, but increasingly it comes from scammers trying to phish for your data and trick you into their criminal web.
Wed 01 Feb 2023
7 min read
We all get a certain amount of spam, and some people get an awful lot of it. Spam emails, spam phone calls, spam texts, it can all start to feel pretty invasive. Not only is it irritating, spam emails can also be used to push scams and even deliver malware into phones and computers.
What is spam?
Spam is any type of unwanted communication that’s sent out in bulk. It can refer to unsolicited emails, calls or texts, or any other form of digital junk mail. While spam tends to be from companies, some of it gets sent by scammers. Over 94% of malware is sent to computers via spam email.
Some spam messages are sent because legitimate companies are trying to sell you something, like clothes or supplements, or making offers about sales or holidays or a must-have gadget. But, the hackers and scammers are out there every day cooking up new ways to get to you, exposing you to a host of security threats. These include scammers aiming to steal your identity, credit card information, and more.
Every day, Gmail blocks over 100 million phishing emails. But that still means a lot still gets through.
Why do you get spam? How do they have your email address or mobile number? You may have noticed that sometimes you don’t get much spam and then all of a sudden you get loads coming in, hundreds of emails to one particular email address.
Suddenly, hundreds of spam emails may start arriving for products you have no interest in, often from other countries. In the mix there may well be scammers typing to tempt you to click on a link by offering a prize. Just this week in my inbox I had apparently won a power tool in Milwaukee, got offered ‘Auto-shield repairs’ from Dallas and a “delivery is delayed” message from Washington State. Even though I live in the UK.
If this happens to you, it probably means that your email address has been compromised in some way, possibly finding its way into the dark web or simply been distributed by a data broking company that has added it to a list they have sold to anyone who wants to buy it. Spammers get your contact details from multiple sources, including:
- Online surveys
- Online contests
- Data breaches
- Websites via data scraping tools
- Information you’ve posted online
- Contact lists bought from marketing companies
If you fill in a survey on Facebook, the survey host is busily capturing your data which may include an email address or phone number that then gets used in spam communications. Surveys and competitions on social media are very often designed to capture data and if you ever take part, your data is being compromised.
When it comes to spam texts, they may be the result of software that randomly generates phone numbers until some are marked as delivered. While there’s nothing you can do about this technique, there are plenty of other ways you can stop spam.
Many people find receiving any kind of spam deeply frustrating, especially because it’s difficult to stop. Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimise the amount you receive and protect yourself from scams in the process.
How do I stop spam texts and calls?
While there’s a limited amount you can do with spam texts and calls, because so many of them are the result of randomly generated numbers, you can register your mobile and landline with the Telephone Preference Service. This tells telemarketers to stop contacting you within 28 days.
You can also report spam texts by forwarding the text to 7726. An easy way to remember ‘7726' is that they're the numbers that spell out ‘SPAM' on the phone’s keypad.
How do I stop spam emails?
Choose a good email service provider
A good email service will filter most spam at first glance. It's easy for big email servers to spot spam if they can see that bulk mail is being sent to lots of its users. iCloud is one of the best for this, as are Gmail and Microsoft.
Filters and rules
Most good email clients allow you to set up junk mail filtering. The junk filters are continuously improving in their ability to detect junk mail and send it off to the junk mail folder. These filters evaluate incoming mail based on a number of criteria that may include whether or not the sender is in your contacts list, whether the email is addressed to your full name or other criteria.
Then, in many email clients, there are rules you can set. Spammers will try and slightly misspell something in the subject line to try and circumvent junk mail filters. But you can set rules, for example so that everything that ever comes from that sender is automatically deleted.
Primary and secondary email address
To drastically limit the amount of times you share your email online, create a secondary email address. You can then use your primary email address for official purposes, and your secondary email address for booking hotels, shopping online, public pages, and surveys.
You could even set up a third email address dedicated to what you know will be spam, such as to sign up for freebies. That way, you hugely reduce your risk of being impacted by a data breach and it avoids scammers getting hold of your real email address.
In all cases, be cautious about where you post your email address. For example, if you include it in your public Facebook profile, scammers and spammers can scrape the data and start using your email address as a target.
You can hide your primary email address by setting up an alias - many email clients allow this. Incoming mail all arrives in the same inbox, but if you use an alias for things like online purchases or surveys, if you start getting lots of spam sent to the alias, you can just delete it completely and make a new one. You still keep your primary email address that you just use for a very few things, for example communications in the family for example.
Block spam emails and numbers
You can block certain contacts that have been spamming you with messages. While most modern scammers use new emails and phone numbers to contact you each time, if you’re receiving a bulk of unwanted messages from the same contact, blocking can cut out a lot.
Block pictures in HTML messages
In some email clients, you can block automatic picture downloads and other external content in messages if the content is linked to a server. This matters, because if you open a message that has external content when this feature is turned off, the external content downloads automatically, and that tells the server that your e-mail address is valid. Then, your email address can be sold to a spammer. You can unblock external content for messages that come from sources that you trust.
Turn off read and delivery receipts
Spammers sometimes send meeting requests and messages that include requests for read and delivery receipts. Responding to such meeting requests and read receipts might help spammers to confirm your email address as valid, leading to more intrusion.
Never click on any links or respond to spam
If you ever respond to a spam text, your phone number will likely be tagged as valid and can be sent around to other scammers, increasing the chances that you’ll get more junk messages. For example, even though legitimate businesses can send texts that end with ‘Text STOP to OptOut’, many scammers also do this to confirm your number is valid. So, unless you’re sure the text is from a legitimate business it’s best not to respond at all. For emails, this includes clicking the ‘unsubscribe’ link, which actually informs your spammer that you exist. Clicking on a link or attachment in a spam message could also trigger malware that infects your device.
Check the checkboxes
When you shop online, there are sometimes checkboxes that are already ticked, which indicates that it’s fine with you if the company sells or gives your email address to other businesses. So, clear this checkbox so that your e-mail address is not shared.
Change your phone settings
Different types of phone offer different spam protection solutions that you should be able to find in settings.
Mark and report emails and texts as spam
If you find a spam email in your regular inbox, mark it as spam which will move it to the spam folder. Your phone or computer will then recognise when something arrives again from that sender and send it straight to the spam folder. And, if you receive any more emails from this address, the spam filter will know to mark it as spam and it can help the service provider algorithm better adapt and identify spam in the future.
Remember, you can report spam text messages to your mobile provider by copying the original message and texting it to 7726 (which spells out SPAM).
Clean up your digital footprint
The best way to start afresh and ensure only people you trust have your contact details is to clean up your digital footprint.
For a scammer to target you using spam, they need some of your personal data, your email address for example. They may get that from scraping it from the internet and social media profiles if it’s on there, or they might get it from a data breach where hackers have stolen data from a company that has your personal data in its servers. Your personal data probably sits in thousands of databases held in many companies, including some you may not even have heard of.
To reduce the risk of being targeted by spammers or scammers, get your data deleted from any company that doesn't need it. If spammers can't get your data then there’s less chance that you’ll start receiving spam, either genuine companies trying to sell you something, or scammers with more malicious intent. You can get your data deleted from any company that doesn't need it, in a single click, by using Rightly Protect. Our service is quick, simple and free.
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