What is email spam? English Oxford Dictionary defines spam as “Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.”. Unfortunately, spam mail traffic affects all genuine marketers. Therefore today I’d like to look at the origins of spam, and how we can report it.
Global Spam Volume
According to Statista, in 2007, global spam volume made up 88.5% of total email traffic. That’s a lot of spam. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that in 2019 the global spam volume was 28.5%. That’s a sharp decline in spam traffic. Check this out:
The Origin of Term
The Internet term spam comes from a ‘Monty Python’ comedy group. They aired an episode set in a café where every item on the menu included spam. When the waitress would mention the word “spam”, a group of Vikings would then start to sing: spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Even though unwanted, it kept popping up on the menu. Doesn’t that remind you of email spam?
The First Spam
There are several stories about the first spam incidents. One of the better-documented cases that many actually consider as the first instance of spamming involves Richard Depew.
In 1993, he accidentally posted around 200 duplicated messages in the newsgroup (using Usenet at the time). Shortly after, Joel Furr officially coined the term spam.
Why do People Still Spam?
Unfortunately, spamming is still popular, making life so much harder for genuine marketers. Many are looking for a quick buck, falling for various systems promising big earnings. Thus, the wannabe marketers might not even understand what they are doing (or if what they are doing is wrong or illegal).
Alas, some are very aware that they are sending unsolicited emails. However, they are still taking the risk for any gains they may get from anyone responding to those emails. Others will mass mail with malicious intent, for example, trying to spread a virus.
Some businesses use spammy email techniques to try to gain audience or web traffic, and of course, get profits out of it. Fortunately, countries have created laws trying to stop or at least reduce unsolicited emails. Make spammers accountable and protect consumer data and privacy.
Laws and Regulations are Here to Help
There are laws and regulations that try to stop unwanted mail and safeguard our personal data. For example, the CAN-SPAM legislation in the US aims to protect our rights as email recipients and punish offenders. In Canada, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) regulates all commercial electronic messages, including email marketing, text messaging and even social media. GDPR, or General Data Protection Act, looks after European Union 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?
Many companies ask to report such emails straight to them, and they provide instructions on how to do that or what the next steps should be. However, there are several other ways to report junk emails:
- Report such emails to your email provider.
- If you can identify where these emails come from, report them to their email service provider.
- Mark these emails as junk. This action is also called an abuse complaint.
- The Federal Trade Commission asks to report unwanted commercial email messages to this email address email@example.com – read more about the FTC views about spam here.
- 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 cybercrime and fraud, online scams and viruses in the Action Fraud website.
- You can also report spam to Google.
It is also useful to regularly visit the FTC Scam Alerts page.
How to Identify Spam Emails?
Let’s learn how to identify spam emails. I’ve found a spam email in my junk mail, and it will serve as a good example of spam mail.
It looks like spammers are very much trying to offer potential easy money as a catch. Have you ever received notifications that you have won a fantastic amount of money or received an unexpected inheritance from a long-lost relative? I certainly have.
So, my junk mail shows that I got an ‘official letter from federal bureau of investigation FBI’ (I’m not fixing the typos here). Scam emails will contain typos. And, they will have lots of ALL CAPS TEXT. The louder you shout, the more people might pay attention, right?
The 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 what law enforcement would contact you?
So the story in the email goes like this: the agent introduces himself as Andrew Castor. Let’s google him – and 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.
When you read the email, find things that don’t make sense. For example, mismatch of titles. He wants you to contact a bank a person from the Bank of America. Bank of America employees do not use weird Gmail accounts for their work.
Scam emails don’t always make a lot of sense. In this case, this agent wants me to contact a person from the Bank of America. The Bank of America employees do not use weird Gmail accounts for their work, by the way. Think logically and don’t reply or click on the links in such emails.
So, to sum up, try to identify this information if you’re in doubt about an email legitimacy:
- The purpose of the email. Who are the senders, and what do they want from you? For example, do they want to get 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? Good indication of a scammy email.
- Would a company mentioned in the email use a personal email address for their work?
- Check the sender domain, from and reply to details. In this case, I would expect the FBI work email to have something like fbi.gov email domain. Definitely not water.ocn.ne.jp or gmx.us.
- Is the email encrypted? The example we looked at clearly isn’t – see the red alert:
Originally published in 2017, updated January 2021.