Ahoy there! Ever wondered about the origins of that pesky phenomenon called email spam and how to give it a good kick in the virtual bum? Well, let’s dive right in. First things first, what exactly is email spam? According to the English Oxford Dictionary, spam refers to “Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.”. Ouch, that’s like a swarm of pesky digital mosquitoes buzzing in your inbox. And you know what? It affects not only users but also all those smart, genuine marketers out there. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and uncover the truth about spam and learn how we can effectively report spam emails.
Global Spam Volume
Now, brace yourself for a mind-blowing statistic. In 2011, global spam volume accounted for a whopping 80% of total email traffic! That’s a whole lot of spam emails. But hey, here’s some good news: spam traffic is declining. And last year, it accounted for 48% of total/global email traffic. That’s what I call progress! That said, 48% is still a lot. We need more people trying to report spam emails. And, unfortunately, those spammers did not disappear; they probably moved on to other mediums. 😡
The Origin of Term “Spam”
You might be wondering, where did the term “spam” come from? It all started with a bunch of comedic geniuses known as Monty Python. In one of their hilarious episodes set in a café, every item on the menu included spam. And whenever the waitress dared utter that magic word, a group of Vikings would burst into an infectious chant: spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Even though it was undesired, it kept popping up on the menu. Doesn’t that remind you of email spam?
The First Spam
But where did the first instances of spamming come from? Legend has it that back in 1993, a fella named Richard Depew inadvertently unleashed around 200 duplicated messages in a newsgroup (using the Usenet). Little did he know that this glorious mishap would go down in history as one of the first recorded spam incidents. Thank you, Richard, for unwittingly catapulting us into the era of unsolicited email madness.
Shortly after that incident, Joel Furr officially coined the term “spam.” Quite a fascinating beginning, wouldn’t you agree?
Why do People Still Spam?
Now, why on earth do people still engage in this spamming shenanigans? I guess we could ask the same question from a different angle – why do people commit crimes in general?
Some folks are just looking for a quick buck. That said, they could fall prey to those tempting schemes promising vast fortunes themselves. Some might not even grasp the consequences or legality of their actions. Some are just wannabe email marketers not knowing what they’re doing, thus contributing to the volumes of spam.
Yes, there are also “corporations” of spammers created to deceive people and get their money or personal data, spread a virus, so they will send spam with malicious intent. They willingly take the risk, hoping to reel in unsuspecting victims who’ll take the bait. Hope karma gets those b*****ds.
Also, let’s not forget that some businesses use spammy email techniques to try to “boost” their mailing list or generate web traffic and, of course, get profits out of it. Fortunately, countries have created laws to stop or at least reduce unsolicited emails. Make spammers accountable and protect consumer data and privacy.
Laws and Regulations are Here to Help
Thankfully, laws and regulations have been established to combat spam and protect consumer data and privacy. For instance, the US has the CAN-SPAM Act, which aims to safeguard our rights as email recipients and hold offenders accountable. Canada has Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), regulating all commercial electronic messages (text messaging and even social media!). The European Union has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which prioritizes data privacy.
You can find the official websites with the detailed information here:
- America’s CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business
- Canada’s Anti-Spam Law: Law on Spam and other Electronic Threats
- GDPR: The EU General Data Protection Regulation
How Can You Report Spam Emails?
Now, let’s talk about how you can report spam emails. Yes, you can actually report spam emails. I know we got used to leaving them in our junk folders… First, many businesses ask to report phishing or spammy emails to them to help them fight spam. They provide specific instructions on how to report such emails directly to them.
- Report the emails to your email provider (for example, Hotmail).
- If you can identify the source of the emails sent, report them to their email service provider (for example, if you know these came from Mailchimp, report the incident to Mailchimp).
- Mark these emails as junk if they landed in your inbox. This action is also called an abuse complaint. Show ’em who’s boss!
- The Federal Trade Commission asks to report unwanted commercial email messages to this email address firstname.lastname@example.org – read more about the FTC views about spam here.
- In the UK you can report cyber-crime and fraud, online scams and viruses on the Action Fraud website.
- You can also report spam to Google. Let the mighty Google giant know people don’t want to stand with spam nonsense.
It is also useful to regularly visit the FTC Scam Alerts page.
How to Identify Spam Emails?
Remember, staying vigilant is key! Here are a few tips to help you identify spam emails (and you’re welcome to look at a spam message I received a while back; it will serve as a good example).
To sharpen your spam-dodging skills, let’s talk about identifying those sneaky spam emails. Look out for these telltale signs:
- Typos, grammar mishaps, and punctuation disasters! Scam and spam emails often resemble the work of an overzealous door-to-door salesman (I have nothing against salespeople!) armed with a keyboard.
- ALL CAPS TEXT screaming at you like a digital megaphone. You can’t ignore it, but you can certainly delete it!
- Watch out for familiar company names or reputable institutions they’re attempting to impersonate: they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They’re clever, those scammers, but you’re cleverer!
- Check the sender domain, from and reply-to details. If they don’t match the official channels, consider it a very big red flag. TRUST ME, the FBI won’t be emailing you from water.ocn.ne.jp or gmx.us!
- Encryption? Yeah, right! If it’s not encrypted, proceed with caution.
Always trust your gut and refrain from replying or clicking on suspicious links.
As mentioned above, spam senders will also use familiar company names or reputable institution names. In this case, I have the FBI writing to me. Pay attention to the subject line. Does it make sense? Think logically; would that really be how law enforcement would contact you?
The spammer is pretending to be Mr Andrew Castor – sorry, FBI SPECIAL AGENT MR Andrew Castor. Let’s do a quick google search. Well well, the first result I see actually shows me a person called Andrew James Castor in the FBI serving as Deputy Associate Deputy Director. It looks like the spammers did some research when creating this scammy email. 🙊
But if you happen to read your spam emails, find things that don’t make sense. For example, in our illustration case, the mismatch of titles. Furthermore, this secret special agent wants you to contact a person from the Bank of America. Bank of America employees do not use weird Gmail accounts for their work. And why would a super duper secret agent direct me to a bank? Report spam, delete email.
Final Summary: How to Identify Spam
Understanding the origins of spam and knowing how to report it is essential in our fight against this nuisance. By staying informed and vigilant, we can protect ourselves and contribute to reducing the global spam volume.
So, to sum up, try to identify this information if you’re in doubt about an email’s legitimacy:
- The purpose of the email. Who are the senders, and what do they want from you? For example, do they want your personal details, a click, a download, a reply, a payment or even a copy of your passport?
- See many typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes? Lots of text in ALL CAPS? A red flag right away.
- Would a company mentioned in the email use a personal email address for their work?
- Check the sender domain (and reply-to details).
- Is the email encrypted? No? Another red flag!
Originally published in 2017, updated July 2023.