What Is Online Spam? (And How to Stop It) (2022)

Evan Porter

This article contains

  • The Different Types of Spam
  • Comment Spam
  • Email Spam
  • Instant Message Spam
  • Social Media Spam
  • Phishing Spam
  • What’s The Difference Between Spam and Advertising?
  • Is Spam Illegal?
  • 3 Tips for Preventing Spam
  • Be Protective of Your Email Address
  • Use a Reputable Antivirus
  • Never Engage with Spam

You’re probably used to getting plenty of junk mail delivered to your physical mailbox.

Fliers you don’t want, coupons you don’t need, and endless catalogs show up on a daily basis.

In the last thirty years or so, as the Internet and email have become more prominent, spammers have realized that it’s often cheaper and more effective to peddle their wares online.

Online spam is any unwanted or malicious communication that takes place on the Internet.

The newsletter you never signed up for? Spam. Fake social media accounts that send you links to adult websites? Spam. Comments on blogs that link to strange websites? Yep — those are spam.

Here’s our guide to identifying the different kinds of spam and how you can see less of it online.

The Different Types of Spam

If you see an unsolicited message in your private communications online, there’s a good chance it counts as spam.

Almost anything can be spam, but in order to fully understand the scope of the problem, it helps to break down the various mediums shady marketers and cybercriminals can use to bombard you with messages.

Comment Spam

If you own and operate your own blog, or even read them frequently, you’re undoubtedly familiar with comment spam.

When you see comments from users with strange usernames, often in broken English or even gibberish, promoting a link to their website, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with spammers.

The most common reason for comment spam? Website owners looking to gain an easy link back to their site, both for a bit of traffic and an SEO boost. But be careful — links left in comments on blogs might just trigger malware downloads.

Email Spam

What Is Online Spam? (And How to Stop It) (2)

Anyone who’s owned the same email address for more than a few years is likely inundated with unwanted advertising and scam messages every single day.

(Video) Understanding Spam and Phishing

Most email providers have gotten better at filtering these messages out, but underhanded marketers and cybercriminals are usually on the cutting edge when it comes to bypassing those filters.

Email spam could be anything from an advertisement for a bizarre health supplement to those infamous pleas for financial help from a Siberian prince. Engaging with spam email could be completely harmless, or it could bring you in contact with Trojan horse malware and other malicious attacks.

Instant Message Spam

If you use any kind of instant messaging client, spammers may be able to target you there, as well.

It’s not hard for your email or username to fall into the wrong hands, even if you’re a pretty safe Internet browser. From there, adult websites, supplement companies, gambling platforms, and even hackers can send you whatever they want.

Not even Gchat users are completely safe from messaging spam.

Social Media Spam

It’s remarkably easy to set up a fake profile on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

If you’ve ever received an out-of-the-blue friend request from a beautiful, scantily-clad woman you’ve never met, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with adult social media spam!

Similar to blog comment spam, social media spammers are usually looking to blast out links to their websites or products en masse and play the odds that they’ll get a few clicks. It’s extremely easy to do this quickly at a massive scale and for very little cost, so any web traffic or purchases gained will be pure profit.

Phishing Spam

Phishing spam deserves its own mention because of its massive consequences.

Cybercriminals and hackers can contact you on any online platform — and even over text message or on the phone — in order to attempt to steal your personal information.

Commonly, phishers will pretend to be a representative from your bank, credit card, utility company, or government in order to trick you into handing over sensitive information. From there, they can use that information to steal your identity.

Phishing most commonly occurs over email, but be extremely wary of live phone calls where someone demands to know your full account number, password, or credit card number.

What’s The Difference Between Spam and Advertising?

The line between spam messages that promote products and legitimate advertising has become extremely blurry.

Is that email from Amazon spam, or an ad? Is a pop-up ad spam?

In a sense, the term is subjective. If you don’t want to see it, it’s spam to you!

However, there are a few key points to keep in mind that differentiate the two:

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Solicited vs. Unsolicited

When you get an email from a company you’ve never heard of, trying to get you to buy their male enhancement drug, that’s spam. You never engaged with the brand, they simply got your email from a third party and started blasting out messages.

If you create an account on Target’s website and make a purchase, however, you might expect to see advertising in your inbox (and real mailbox) from time to time. You voluntarily handed over your information and likely agreed to their terms spelled out in the fine print.

That’s not spam, that’s email marketing.

Can You Unsubscribe?

What Is Online Spam? (And How to Stop It) (3)

A key differentiator between legitimate advertising and spam is whether you can opt out.

You may have signed up for those Target emails, but it’s your prerogative to stop receiving them any time you want. Any message from a respectable business should offer you an easy way to opt out, unsubscribe, or otherwise stop receiving messages.

You likely won’t get that option from more malicious senders.

Manipulative or Dishonest Marketing

Simply put, spam messages usually make outrageous claims or otherwise try to trick you into handing over your attention or money.

Get free cash now! Spend the night with beautiful singles in your area! This supplement cures cancer!

Spam messages might also feature links that redirect you to a different URL once you click them, making it hard to know exactly where you’re headed.

If a legitimate company couldn’t stand behind the claims and practices in an online message, there’s a good bet it’s spam.

Is Spam Illegal?

Online advertising, even aggressive forms of it, are not illegal. Though they certainly can be annoying!

However, there are a few triggers that tip the scales toward making spam illegal:

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No Opt Out

According to CAN-SPAM requirements, users must be able to opt out of unsolicited advertising.

If an advertising email or other message is missing details on how you can unsubscribe, it might be breaking the law.

Aliases and No or Fake Contact Info

When it’s not clear who or where messages are coming from — either they include an alias or don’t offer any sort of address or other contact information — they’re in violation of spam laws.

Automated Harvesting of Email Addresses

There are plenty of legitimate firms out there that sell leads to businesses in order to help them advertise.

However, it’s illegal for a company to use automated means of scraping various parts of the Internet for contact information.

3 Tips for Preventing Spam

It’s really hard to completely avoid seeing any spam online.

However, there are a few things you can do to prevent it and minimize the aggravation it might cause you.

Be Protective of Your Email Address

Cybercriminals like to scrape all corners of the web to gather as many email addresses as they can. It’s illegal, but they do it anyway — that’s what makes them criminals!

Keep yours hidden whenever possible. Don’t post it publicly unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do need to post your email address or other online contact information, try to conceal it.

For example, instead of typing “yourname@gmail.com” you might type “YOURNAME AT GMAIL DOT COM,” so only humans can understand your intent.

Use a Reputable Antivirus

A good antivirus program can’t completely block any spam from entering your inbox, Gchat, or social media, but it can protect you from the worst of them.

The best antiviruses on the market will include protection from phishing, ransomware, and other extremely malicious attacks. That way, if spammers do trick you into downloading a Trojan or triggering a drive-by download, you’ll have extra protection in place.

Never Engage with Spam

If you do receive an unsolicited message online, it’s best to leave it alone completely.

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Delete it and report it as spam to your email provider, if possible.

Replying or clicking any links in the message may put you at serious risk for malware attacks, identity theft, and more.

Online spam is relentlessly annoying, at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Along with putting basic protections in place like the suggestions above, you’d be wise to learn to mentally filter it out.

Don’t engage with it, don’t click on it, don’t even look at it!

Without eyeballs and attention, professional spammers have no incentive to continue their aggravating work.

About the Author

Evan Porter

Tech blogger, loves gadgets, fixes tech problems at home

About the Author

Evan is a writer with over a decade of digital publishing experience. He also builds blogs, loves gadgets, and fixes tech problems around the house.

978 838

(Video) Stay Safe from Phishing and Scams

FAQs

How do I stop online spamming? ›

What is online spam? ›

Spam is digital junk mail and unsolicited communications sent in bulk through an electronic messaging system. Unrequested, disruptive, and usually promotional, spam messages are designed to flood as many inboxes as possible. Traditionally, spam has been sent via email, but also includes SMS and social media messaging.

How do I permanently get rid of spam? ›

Top Rated Product
  1. Report the email as spam.
  2. Block spam email addresses.
  3. Change your email privacy settings.
  4. Unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters or mailing lists.
  5. Use a secondary email address.
  6. Use a third-party email filter.
  7. Delete suspicious emails.
  8. Protect your device against malicious spam.
31 Aug 2022

What happens if you click on spam email? ›

What Happens If You Click on a Phishing Link? Clicking on a phishing link or opening an attachment in one of these messages may install malware, like viruses, spyware or ransomware, on your device. This is all done behind the scenes, so it is undetectable to the average user.

Why am I suddenly getting so many spam? ›

If you start receiving an increased amount of spam, with junk mail filters enabled, then there might be a problem with the mailbox that your spam emails are usually moved to. You should check that the target mailbox or mail folder isn't full or disabled.

What is the most common form of spam? ›

Phishing is the most common form of spam. It's typically delivered through an email, chat, web ad or website that has been designed to impersonate a real person or organization. Phishing messages deliver a sense of urgency or fear to persuade the user to give up their data.

Why do I receive spam emails? ›

Spammers use e-mail harvesting bots to scan the Internet looking for valid e-mail addresses for which you work, it's in all kinds of spam lists. Any type of online activity (registering a domain, blogs, forums, social networks, etc.) that makes use of your e-mail address could potentially expose it.

Where do spam emails come from? ›

Spam messages often come from illegitimate email addresses, and may contain explicit or illegal content. These emails often use scare tactics, contain typos and misleading information, and are sent in bulk from an anonymous sender.

Is it better to block or delete spam? ›

If you receive any unwanted email, the best approach in almost every case is to delete it immediately. It is often clear from the Subject line that a message is junk, so you may not even need to open the message to read it. Some such messages invite you to reply if you want to be removed from their list.

Why am I getting so many spam calls all of a sudden 2022? ›

Why am I getting spam calls all of a sudden? Usually, it's because your number has been sold in a group list of phone numbers to other scammers. Remember, you can always report spam calls to the Better Business Bureau and also the Federal Trade Commission.

Can I block spam emails? ›

Block an email address

When you block a sender, messages they send you will go to your Spam folder. On your Android phone or tablet, open the Gmail app . Open the message. Tap Block [sender].

Do spammers know if you open their email? ›

It depends. Scammers will be able to tell that you opened an email if you download any attachments or click any links (which you should NEVER do), or if your email client automatically loads any images that are embedded in the message.

Can hackers see when you open an email? ›

Hackers and other malicious users can see when you open an email! As an email user (pretty much everyone) there are several security concerns in your mailbox to be aware of. The biggest risk to email accounts are malicious users.

How do I stop spam emails without opening them? ›

How to Unsubscribe From Emails Without a Link
  1. Use a reputable email cleaner, such as Clean Email. ...
  2. Email the sender and ask them to remove you from the list. ...
  3. Filter messages from companies in your inbox. ...
  4. Block the sender. ...
  5. Mark the email as spam, report spam, or report phishing.

How do I permanently block spam in Gmail? ›

Block email from unwanted senders
  1. On your computer, go to Gmail.
  2. Open the message.
  3. In the top right, click More .
  4. Click Block [sender].

Should I be worried about spam emails? ›

In general, no, you need not worry — unless you see suspicious activity beyond just spam.

What is a spam risk? ›

Spam Risk, then, is the term your carrier may use to warn you that it suspects the incoming call is unwanted. If you tend to get a lot of spam calls, it's probably worth your effort to heed the warning and ignore incoming calls marked this way.

What is spam How is it harmful? ›

Most spam is irritating and time-consuming, but some spam is positively dangerous to handle. Usually email scams are trying to get you to give up your bank details so that the fraudsters can either withdraw money, or steal your identity. Such messages include phishing scams and advanced fee fraud.

What are two common spam indicators? ›

The email has keywords in it. The email has misspelled words or punctuation errors or both. The email is from your supervisor. The email has an attachment that is a receipt for a recent purchase.

Why do people spam? ›

Spam emails are almost always commercial and driven by a financial motive. Spammers try to promote and sell questionable goods, make false claims and deceive recipients into believing something that's not true.

Is spam a type of virus? ›

In the general sense, no. Spam is not a virus. However, some spam emails or messages may include phishing or malware (a form of virus) that can harm your device.

How do spammers make their money? ›

The owners of such businesses may regard spamming as a legitimate marketing strategy, and so they pay the spammers to use their networks to spam, in the same way a legitimate business might pay AdWords to have advertising placed on the websites of prominent publishers.

What is an example of a spam email? ›

Look closely at the sender's address.

Spammers will often impersonate reputable institutions in an attempt to gain access to your data. In doing so, they will sometimes create a fake email address that resembles the real one. For example, a PayPal spam email may be sent from an address ending in “@paypai.com”.

Why am I getting so much spam all of a sudden 2022 Gmail? ›

More spam than usual appears to be getting through the automatic filters on some free email services, particularly Google's 18-year-old Gmail. According to cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, there has been a 30 percent increase in the volume of spam this past year across services.

How do I keep my email address private? ›

The best way to keep your private email away from prying eyes and hackers is to use encryption. Encryption protects your private email by jumbling up your messages, making them impossible to decipher unless you explicitly authorize someone to read them.

Why is it called spam email? ›

The name comes from a Monty Python sketch in which the name of the canned pork product Spam is ubiquitous, unavoidable, and repetitive. Email spam has steadily grown since the early 1990s, and by 2014 was estimated to account for around 90% of total email traffic.

Should I delete items in spam folder? ›

Yes. It is not necessary to keep the spam messages in your e-mail program's spam folder because SpamSieve stores the information that it has extracted from the messages elsewhere. Before you delete any messages, make sure that you have corrected all the mistakes.

What is the difference between junk and spam? ›

Related. At the core, both spam and junk mail represent messages that clutter the user's inbox. While junk mail often comes from opt-in services, such as from businesses, spam refers to messages that the user did not opt to receive.

Can Gmail automatically delete spam? ›

By default, Gmail deletes the emails from the spam folder after 30 days. If you want to delete these emails, you have to go to the Spam folder manually and delete them.

What happens if you call back a spam number? ›

“It's a telephone scam technique where your phone rings once and then stops, in hopes that you will call the number back. If you do call back, it goes to a high-cost international number, meaning you will be charged for that call, and the scammer will make money.”

Does * 61 block unwanted calls? ›

Block calls from your phone

Receive an unwanted call? Press *61 to add the last call received to your call block list. Press *80 to turn call blocking off. Press *60 to turn call blocking back on.

What number can I call to block spam calls? ›

The National Do Not Call Registry lets you limit the telemarketing calls you receive. Stop unwanted sales calls by registering your phone number: Online: Visit DoNotCall.gov. By phone: Call 1-888-382-1222 or TTY: 1-866-290-4236.

How do I block a email address? ›

When you block a sender, messages they send you will go to your Spam folder.
  1. On your Android phone or tablet, open the Gmail app .
  2. Open the message.
  3. At the top-right of the message, tap More .
  4. Tap Block [sender].

How do I stop spam emails on my iPhone? ›

To block emails on iPhone, tap on the sender's name in the Mail app and select Block this Contact. To automatically send blocked emails to trash, change the Blocked Sender Options. The Blocked Sender Options are located in the iPhone Settings app under the Mail heading.

Can opening an email in Gmail give you a virus? ›

Can I get a virus by reading my email messages? Most viruses, Trojan horses, and worms are activated when you open an attachment or click a link contained in an email message. If your email client allows scripting, then it is possible to get a virus by simply opening a message.

Can you be tracked through email? ›

Email tracking is already used by individuals, email marketers, spammers and phishers to understand where people are, validate email addresses, verify that emails are actually read by recipients, find out if they were forwarded and discover if a given email has made it past spam filters.

Can someone hack my bank account with my email address? ›

It's also possible hackers could use your email account to gain access to your bank account or credit card information, draining funds from an account, or racking up charges. They might even use your email and password to sign up for online sites and services, sticking you with monthly fees in the process.

Should I delete my email if it was hacked? ›

Should I delete my email after it's hacked? No, don't delete your email, even after it's been hacked. This is because most email providers will recycle old and deleted email addresses. If you're concerned, stop using your email for sending or receiving messages, but don't delete it.

Does changing password stop hackers? ›

Yes, changing your password will prevent hackers from accessing your account. Updating your account password at the first sign of an attack limits damage. Changing your password regularly also improves security. Stolen credentials in data breaches are often old.

How do I remove my email from spam lists? ›

Delete emails in spam
  1. On your computer, open Gmail.
  2. On the left, click More.
  3. Click Spam.
  4. At the top, click Delete all spam messages now. Or, select specific emails, then click Delete forever.

What happens if I unsubscribe from an email? ›

If the message is seriously malicious, the “unsubscribe” link may take you to a site configured to infect or compromise your system. This is just another way bad guys get people to click on embedded email links. Don't fall for this ruse! It may result in a malware infection or system compromise.

How do I permanently block spam in Gmail? ›

Block email from unwanted senders
  1. On your computer, go to Gmail.
  2. Open the message.
  3. In the top right, click More .
  4. Click Block [sender].

What does stop spamming mean? ›

Spamming is the use of messaging systems to send multiple unsolicited messages (spam) to large numbers of recipients for the purpose of commercial advertising, for the purpose of non-commercial proselytizing, for any prohibited purpose (especially the fraudulent purpose of phishing), or simply repeatedly sending the ...

How do I block spam texts on my Iphone? ›

With iMessage, you can filter messages from unknown senders, and you won't get notifications from them. Go to Settings > Messages, scroll down to Message Filtering, then turn on Filter Unknown Senders.

Can spammers tell if you open an email? ›

It depends. Scammers will be able to tell that you opened an email if you download any attachments or click any links (which you should NEVER do), or if your email client automatically loads any images that are embedded in the message.

Is it safe to unsubscribe from spam emails? ›

Hackers can download malware

On top of compromising your email account, hitting the “unsubscribe” button in a spam email could also compromise your computer. Hackers might take the opportunity to download a virus to your PC or Mac instead of removing your email from their mailing list.

Why is Gmail getting more spam? ›

What's the problem? More spam than usual appears to be getting through the automatic filters on some free email services, particularly Google's 18-year-old Gmail. According to cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, there has been a 30 percent increase in the volume of spam this past year across services.

Why do people send spam? ›

The prime reason why spammers send messages is to lure you into buying products from them instead of companies you trust. Spam emails are primarily commercial in nature and promote products in a disguised manner through links embedded in genuine emails from sites you are familiar with.

Why is it called spam? ›

SPAM is an acronym: Special Processed American Meat.

What is another word for spam? ›

Unsolicited, unwanted, impersonal email.

Is there a totally free spam blocker? ›

Hiya Caller ID & Block is a Spam blocker app for Android phones that identifies the calls that the user must take and blocks the numbers and texts that must be avoided. Hiya is easy to use and it is free.

Is there a free app to get rid of spam? ›

Cleanfox is an anti-spam tool to get rid of newsletters and spam with just one click. - Keep your subscription and the old emails. Of course, you can reverse any action you did on Cleanfox. Cleanfox is available free of charge for all email services (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Orange, iCloud, SFR...).

Is there a free spam remover? ›

As you can see, Comodo Anti Spam is the Free free spam remover in the market. What differentiates it from the rest is it uses different layers to combat spam.

Why am I getting so many spam texts all of a sudden 2021? ›

A report from spam-blocking app RoboKiller found that spam texts increased 58 percent in 2021 from the previous year. This big jump probably happened because scammers are realizing that people are too familiar with phone scams to fall for them at the same rate, RoboKiller Vice President Giulia Porter said.

Why am I suddenly getting spam texts on my iPhone? ›

Spam messages usually originate from a spammer's getting hold of your cell number, often via data leaks, the sale of personal data or even simply by random number generation. However the spammers got your number spam texts are at best an annoyance, and at worst a downright security hazard.

How do I stop spam texts for free? ›

To filter out spam numbers on an Android:
  1. Go to Messages and tap the three-dot icon in the top right corner of your screen.
  2. Select “Details”
  3. Tap “App Settings”
  4. Select “Spam Protection”
  5. Turn on “Enable Spam Protection”
20 Jul 2022

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