What Is an Example of Spam Email?

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

Woman checking email on laptop

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Anyone who uses email encounters spam, also known as junk mail. At the very least, it fills inboxes and takes up valuable time; at its worst, it tricks unsuspecting recipients into divulging private information or sending money to an unknown party. Spam is so pervasive that most email providers supply spam-reporting and blocking tools.

What Are Some Examples of Spam?

Unless you use filters judiciously, there's a good chance your inbox contains at least a bit of spam right now. Spam consists of:

  • Email messages you did not ask for from senders you don't know.
  • Unsolicited commercial email messages sent in bulk, often using a purchased (or stolen) mailing list that includes your address.
  • Counterfeit messages that look like they were sent by reliable sources and 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, distinguishing between spam and legitimate messages is difficult. For example:

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

Every email you request 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 can be more than a nuisance. It costs time, money, and resources to process, filter, or manually delete. The prevalence of spam and the resources it takes to avoid being spammed detracts from the appeal of email as a medium. Additionally, you might experience other negative effects.

  • When you respond to one unsolicited advertisement, you could end up on the mailing lists of many sellers, thereby increasing the junk mail that comes into your account.
  • If you respond to an email sender who is falsely posing as someone you know—for example, as your bank—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

Here are a few ways to protect yourself from spam:

  • Don't open it. The best thing to do about spam that makes it to your inbox is to not open it or reply in any way. Even just clicking the unsubscribe blurb at the bottom of an email might be considered positive by the sender; it's evidence that you read the email and interacted with it. It also verifies your email address.

  • Don't give out personal information. Never enter any personal information in response to 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 information in an email.

  • Find the sender. Click the name of the email sender in the header and look at the address on any suspicious email. It might claim to be from Apple or your credit card company, but when the sending address is from joe.smith or someone in a country where you have no contacts, you know you have a spam email.

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    Email Header Sample.
  • Mark it as spam in your inbox. Report an email as spam using the spam or junk mail feature in your mail interface. The email service learns from your spam reports to help reduce the amount of junk mail you receive.

    Gmail report a message as spam
  • Filter it out of your inbox. 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 those messages.