What Is an Example of Spam Email?

Learn why junk mail exists, why it's bad, and what you can do about it

Spam
Andrew St. Clair / andrewstclair.com

Anyone who uses email encounters spam, also known as junk mail. It may fill your inbox and take up your valuable time or — worse — it may trick you into giving out your private information to someone you don't know. Spam is so pervasive that most email providers supply spam-reporting tools.

What Is Spam?

Many people say, "I know it when I see it." Unless you use filters judiciously, there's a good chance your inbox is full of spam right now. Spam consists of:

  • Email messages you did not ask for that are from senders you don't know
  • Unsolicited commercial email messages sent in bulk, often to a purchased (or stolen) mailing list that contained your address
  • Counterfeit messages from reliable senders that attempt to trick you into supplying your personal information
  • Misleading messages from people you know whose email accounts have been hacked

Not all spam is illegal, but some of it is.

What Is Not Spam?

Newsletters you signed up for, an email from a college friend, notifications you requested from social networking sites, and most messages from people who are trying to contact you personally are not spam. Sometimes, it is hard to distinguish between spam and legitimate messages. For example:

  • A newsletter somebody signed you up for to annoy you is not spam (but a different kind of email abuse).
  • An email sent to you in bulk by an unknown sender that you do, in fact, welcome and find useful may not be spam either.

Every email you requested in one way or another is not spam, even if you later find it annoying.

Why Does Spam Exist?

Spam thrives because it works. People buy products advertised in junk email. When enough people respond to a spam mailing, the sender makes a profit (or gains information) and is encouraged to send more spam email.

Only a minuscule proportion of the junk email sent out needs to generate revenue for a spam-spouting business to cross the breakeven point. Spam is inexpensive to send.

Why Is Spam Bad?

Spam is more than a nuisance. It costs time, money and resources to process, filter or manually delete, which makes email less attractive as a medium. Additionally:

  • When you respond to one unsolicited advertisement, you may end up on the mailing lists of many sellers, thereby increasing the junk mail that comes into your account exponentially.
  • If you respond to an email sender who is falsely posing as someone you know or as your bank (for example), you risk handing your private information over to a stranger with evil intentions. Identity theft is a huge problem. Don't make it easy for others to steal yours.
  • Some spamming is illegal. Unsolicited mail that is sexually harassing or contains child pornographic material is illegal. So are attempts to attain your credit card information.
  • Spam preys on inexperienced or naive email users.

What to Do About Spam

The best thing you can do about spam that makes it to your inbox is to not click on it or reply in any way. Even when you click the blurb at the bottom of an email that instructs the sender not to send you any more email, that response may be considered positive by the sender.

Never enter any personal information into an email that requests your username, account number or other personal information. Be suspicious. If you receive an email from your bank, and you aren't sure it is legitimate, call the bank instead of supplying any personal information in an email.

Click the name of the email sender in the header and look at the address on any suspicious email. It may claim to be from Apple or your credit card company, but when the sending address is from joe.smith or someone in Liberia, you know you have a spam email on your hands.

Report an email as spam using the spam or junk mail feature in your mail interface. The email service learns from your spam reports and slowly reduces the amount of junk mail you are sent.

Set up filters in your email program to automatically trash messages from a specific person or company that frequently sends spam to you. That way, you never have to see them.