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By Trisha Prabhu

Hi Trish, I think I inadvertently clicked on a link that seemed to be from a legitimate source and started getting all sorts of spam email. What can I do to solve this problem?

Hi, everyone! I hope you’re all doing well and having a great April thus far. Welcome back to another week of Ask Trish!

To this week’s questioner, thank you so, so much for your fantastic question and raising such a relevant topic (and one that we’ve actually never covered on Ask Trish!) – spam email. I’m sorry that you’re currently being bombarded with spam email – I’m sure we can all relate because spam email is an issue that more or less everyone has faced. Whether it’s one email or, as in your case, tons of email, it can be very frustrating, annoying, and, in the worst cases, even scary. But because it’s so pervasive, most folks just accept that spam is inevitable – and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In fact, that’s not quite true. While it’s definitely true that, no matter what you do, you will likely receive some spam email at some point, there are absolutely steps you can take to take control of your Inbox. This week, I’ll briefly dive into 1) what spam is and where it comes from and 2) how you can prevent and address spam, if and when it happens to you. Keep in mind that, as always, this is a brief primer on a large, quite complicated topic – so use this post as a starting point, and then continue your research! With that said, let’s get into it:

First and foremost, what is “spam email”? We’ve all likely heard the term “spam,” but do you know exactly what it is/what it includes? Definitions vary, but spam generally refers to unwanted, recurring messages that are sent via email (often to many recipients, all at the same time). In 2021, some statistics showed that spam constituted almost half of the world’s email! So yes – it is a very persistent problem. As for the name “Spam,” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary claims that the name comes from a British TV show in which chanting of the word “spam” drowned out everything else – which is a great metaphor for the way that spam can drown out your Inbox!

You might be wondering – what counts as spam? That’s a great question, as spam is diverse – there are lots of different types of spam. According to Cisco, there are 5 key types of spam: there’s commercial spam, or unwanted emails that are sent for the purposes of advertising a product or service (not such a terrible thing, but still annoying), anti-virus spam, or emails that claim that your machine has a virus and offer a solution – which will in fact be a malicious file, email spoofing, or email spam that uses well-known brands or logos to appear legitimate (though the emails are not!), sweepstakes winner spam, or spam that claims you’ve won a prize (but does so only to collect personal information from you), and money scams, or spam that asks you for money (it may claim that you’ll get your money back, and more – but it’s a scam!). What these different types of spam illustrate is, once again, that spam varies. Some spam isn’t really malicious, while other spam can literally attempt to rob you of your livelihood or collect very sensitive, personal information. Other spam can be illegal, violent, or sexualized (indeed, false sextortion – that is, when someone claims to have explicit information about you, even when they don’t and attempts to blackmail you – can happen through spam).

Where does this spam come from/how does it get to you? Spam can come from humans, but more often than not, it’s bots that are sending this spam out to you. These bots “crawl” millions of websites, scraping email addresses that they then send spam emails to. Human spammers may also set “traps,” e.g., links that, when clicked on, capture your email address – so either humans or bots can start sending you spam. (That seems to be what happened to this week’s questioner – so frustrating!) All that’s to say – even if you never click on an illegitimate link, it’s likely that, at some point, a bot will find your email address and start sending you spam.

What to do about all of this, then? Briefly, here are my top tips for preventing and addressing spam in your Inbox: 

  1. Try and keep your email address as private as possible. Try and avoid sharing your personal information, including your email address, publicly on the web. Remember, if you do, you’re opening yourself up to bots that may scrape that email address…and then start spamming you.
  2. Use your email service’s tools. But what happens if you do start getting spam? Don’t fear. Most email services, e.g., Gmail, actually have algorithms that automatically filter out spam and put them in a “junk” or “trash” folder (exactly where they belong!). Super convenient, I know! Take advantage of these tools. If spam slips through, be sure to mark it as Spam – once you do, the filter will be sure to mark any emails from the same email address/email addresses like it as “junk” or “trash.”
  3. Go beyond your email service. If your email service’s spam filter isn’t enough, you can invest in a third-party spam filter. These filters are super sophisticated, super advanced, and will often not only keep spam out of your Inbox, but actually prevent any and all security compromises. There are tons of options out there – definitely do some research.

Thank you so much again to this week’s questioner for raising such an important, relevant topic.! I hope this post is a helpful resource as you navigate spam email – and hopefully, take control of your Inbox! As we wrap up, as always, I’d like to make my end-of-post plug: if you’re looking for answers to similar questions – or completely unrelated questions – please join the conversation! Share any Internet-related questions, thoughts, or perspectives here (and your topic just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post!). Anything you’re experiencing is totally valid – and by sharing your perspective, you might help others in our community experiencing the same thing(s). 💙 One last thing: don’t forget that if you see an Ask Trish video you like, you should give it a like and share it on your social media. With your support, we can build our incredible #AskTrish community!

Have a great week,


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