Don’t Unsubscribe from Spam Emails

You probably get a lot of email, and a large portion of it is probably spam.

“Spam” is a term for any unsolicited, unwanted electronic communication. It can happen over email, text message, website, social media post, comment section and more. We will focus on email spam today.

When you get a legitimate commercial email—in other words, when you’ve done business with a company, or signed up for special offers or other information—there is going to be a link at the bottom of the message. The link will either say “unsubscribe” or something like “change email preferences.” In either case, the link will allow you to take your email address off their mailing list. The senders are required by law (the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003) to include this option.

If you’ve done business with these senders, it’s fine to click the “unsubscribe” link.

However, a lot of unsolicited, scammy emails also include an “unsubscribe” link. These are the messages from “companies” you’ve never interacted with, who are just sending based on a list purchased from someone else that has been passed around between spammers and scammers, using email addresses gleaned from who-knows-where (hacked websites, data breaches, etc.).

In this case, you should never click the link to unsubscribe. These emails come from people who are not following the rules for sending bulk email, and they are not offering you a way to receive less spam. All you are doing is confirming that your email address is live, which makes it more attractive to spammers and raises its price when they sell lists. You might also be tricked into providing additional information. In any case, the number of junk emails you receive will only increase.

This requires knowing the difference between “spam” and legit commercial emails, though. If you’ve got a relationship with a company or signed up for promotional offers—sales from stores you shop at, new releases from online retailers you’ve bought from, for example—that’s not spam, even if you decide you don’t want the messages anymore. Click “unsubscribe” and the messages will stop.

But all those “You’ve won a $500 gift card,” “Cure dementia with this miracle food,” something-or-other-about-gutter-guards, and fake McAfee virus software messages (where they use anything BUT standard text characters to spell out the subject line)? Don’t even bother trying to get off their email list. Your best bet is to delete them immediately, without opening.