Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It's tempting to want to reply to spam and tell the sender to stop it (or worse). Not only is that ineffective, it could result in more spam.

Can I set up an automatic email reply to all the [BULK...] emails I get telling them that such are not being received at my email address? Would it be advisable to do so; I get few if any that inform or provide any useful info. Or perhaps I need to ask "what is the best way to deal with [Bulk...] emails other than one-by-one?"

I'm going to assume that by "BULK" you mean unsolicited email - aka spam. Email that you never signed up for and that you simply don't want.

Yes, you can set up an automated reply, but that's not what I'm going to show you.

Why?

Because you should never, ever reply to spam.

It won't make things any better, and might well make things worse.

Let me explain why...

Replies to Spam Rarely Go to the True Sender

When you reply to an email, your reply is sent to the address listed in the "From:" field (or the "Reply-To:" field) in the original email. The problem is that when it comes to spam this is rarely the person or organization that actually sent the mail.

"There's very little you can say or do that will stop spam once you start getting it."

More often it's a random email address of someone who is completely unrelated to the spam, and knows absolutely nothing about it.

"From spoofing", as it's called, is used by spammers for exactly what you might think: to hide themselves. To make tracing the source of the spam difficult, if not nearly impossible.

If you reply to spam the person who actually get your message can do nothing about the spam.

In fact they could claim that you're now spamming them.

Replies to Spam Confirm that Your Email Address as Valid

Spammers send email to perhaps millions of email addresses at a time. And that frequently includes an extremely high percentage of bogus email addresses. (Another reason for faking the From: address is so that the spammer doesn't get all the bounces that result from all those bogus addresses.)

Why? More like "Why not?" - there's no additional cost to the spammer to send out all those bogus emails, as long as some of the emails that they send to are valid.

If they do pay attention to replies, one way they might use your reply is to confirm that the email address that they used to send to you is a valid, real email address with a real person.

That's exceptionally valuable to spammers, and they will then give you gold status among their targets.

By replying you've confirmed that your email address is valid, and you'll probably just get more spam. Lots more spam.

Deal With Spam as Spam

So what should you do with spam?

If it's really, truly spam - something that you did not sign up for, then if your email program or service supports it: mark it as spam. Most will then use assorted characteristics of the message to better identify and automatically filter spam in the future.

Don't bother blocking the sender of spam. As we've seen above the sender is rarely accurate, and changes randomly.

(And for the record, if it's something you did sign up for, then unsubscribe. Mark it as spam only of the unsubscribe process fails to work.)

Delete it and Move On

If you can't do anything like that, and for any spam that continues to make it through your spam filters, delete it and move on. It's just not worth getting all worked up over. There's very little you can say or do that will stop spam once you start getting it.

Article C4683 - December 18, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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16 Comments
JackDoitCrawford
December 21, 2010 8:26 AM

I read somewhere that you can forward spam to the government (Federal Trade Commission)at spam@uce.gov. What about that?

You can if you like, but my take it that it's wasted effort. I'm sure they're getting a gazillion copies of everything you get, and the chances of them acting on it are small.
Leo
22-Dec-2010

bill
December 21, 2010 9:19 AM

RE: spam@uce.gov

I suspect that it is like the government reporting site for do not call violations. People send a bunch at first but then quit when it doesn't seem to help.

I suspect that is the government's claim that the Do Not Call list is more effective now, because "fewer people are sending in complaints".
The complaints may be down because people gave up since I have seen an increase in the calls (primarily recordings asking me to press a button but with a fake or no caller id, which is also a violation of federal law but is basically unreportable.

I would love it if a mail program could be automatically send "verified" spam automatically.

Darrell Thomas
December 21, 2010 9:29 AM

what i do is block the spam emails coming back to my email address i use windows live mail and i just right click the spam email and add it to junk mail and block sender then i dont gtet no more emails from the spam i just recieved it from thanks

Kathy
December 21, 2010 10:00 AM

I think it's also important to note that the spam emails do not need to be dealt with "one by one". Most email programs allow the user to check several emails at a time to delete them. I certainly hope the person who wrote the question is not opening and reading every spam letter they receive. That's the way to get viruses on your computer!!

Alex Dow
December 21, 2010 11:52 AM

Keep in mind that at present, SPAM forms about 80% of e-mail traffic.

If every SPAM Message was replied to in the manner suggested, then SPAM traffic would theoretically double.

As an example, say there are 1 million e-mail messages on the Web every second, 800,000 being SPAM, then replying to every one of them would generate a further 800,000 "SPAM Reply" messages, nearly doubling the Total Load to 1.8 Million per second - OR correspondingly slowing the Web down - both for SPAM and the Real working messages that you DO WANT to receive.

Assuming that 1 Million/sec is an absolute limit, then out of that figure, SPAM would now constitute 88.9% (888,888.9 SPAM Messages per sec) compared to 80%, leaving capacity for only 111,111.1 Real Messages, compared with 200,000 in the original scenario.

In other words, 45% of the original Real Message capacity would be lost!!

So simply DELETE and otherwise ignore SPAM.

========================

Informally over recent months, I have been observing how SPAM volumes vary.

At the start of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the amount of SPAM I received, went down significantly.

About one week later when the World Football Chanpionship started, SPAM virtually disappeared for a few days, returning to normal levels by the end of this championship.

Over the Autimn/Fall, it has been at typical levels, around 500 per day.

Over the past three weeks of extremely cold weather here in the UK, SPAM has dropped significantly at each temporary intensifying of the cold weather, about 200 per day, then increasing to unusually high levels as the cold weather eased slightly, about 1000 per day.

Maybe I should start recording those fluctuations.

Alex Dow

Sam Spader
December 21, 2010 1:13 PM

It's not worth the aggravation regarding spam. As Leo mentions, "move on." Spam will never stop as long as the Internet is operating.

Sam Spader
December 21, 2010 1:15 PM

As Leo mentions, Move On. Really, it's not worth the aggravation dealing with spam.

voxpop
December 21, 2010 1:21 PM

First I use the free version of SPAMFIGHTER and second when I sign up for something I'm not sure of I use the free www.mailexpire.com and set the address they provide for 1,2 weeks or more until i get spam at that address; then I cancel that address and apply for a different one. IT WORKS GREAT.

Julie Lawrence
December 21, 2010 5:06 PM

Use Mailwasher Free - it downloads your email headers, flags the ones it think are spam (and you can flag/unflag of course), and then bounces them back as though your email address is invalid. This often leads to the spammer taking you off their list. It works extremely well.

For all the reasons I mentioned, and a few more brought up by other commenters, I would never use a service that replied to spam in any fashion.
Leo
22-Dec-2010

James M
December 22, 2010 12:35 AM

I am using an old IBM large screen notebook with limited memory. I had been using Cactus Spam Filter. It was very good at catching spam but something about the way it operated slowed my boot up to a crawl. Then, when some big ITunes downloads had reduced the amount of memory available for virtual memory, it seemed that Cactus Spam Filter starting crashing my machine. It would just freeze up.

Whenever, I switched to the Process Manager it was always some exec program in Cactus Spam Filter that had failed to load/operate, etc.

Out of desperation I deleted Cactus Spam Filter and switched to Cloudmark Desktop (Freeware). It works great! Doesn't slow my computer and a higher Spam detection rate than CSF. The installation process was also the easiest I had have seen! So far I can't recommend it too highly.

James

www.fayfacts.com
December 22, 2010 5:33 AM

you just use the windows live email to block the spam emails coming back to the email address and you just add it to junk mails.

Jerry Falk
December 24, 2010 3:57 AM

If you use gmail, they will automatically put spam in a spam folder and delete it when it is 30 days old. By waiting 30 days they claim that the spammer has deleted your email address already as a dead email address. I have had gmail since it's inception and do not have a spam problem.

Alex Dow
December 29, 2010 1:54 AM

Following on from my previous comments on this subject, the amount of SPAM I received over Christmas was about 100 messages per day - it is now moving back towards the typical 500 per day.

Regarding forwarding SPAM to "government" sites, that will have exactly the same effect as "replying" or "forwarding" the SPAM back to tits seeming source.

It will simply further reduce the real working capacity of the Web.

I haven't done the arithmetic for this; but the previous example makes the likely result frightening!

So the general agreement is -
DELETE and FORGET.

Alex Dow
January 12, 2011 7:46 AM

To round off this, the SPAM e-mail arriving at my Inbox is now back to around the unfortunate normal of about 500 per day.

So it seems that SPAMMERS have vacations/holidays!

Jim
January 19, 2011 10:48 AM

As Leo notes, flag what is junk as junk, unsubscribe from things you actually -asked- for, and "just throw out the rest".

What Leo didn't say was that email junk (aka spam) is like receiving flyers in the mailbox where you live. You -could- track down the sources of physical junk mail as well, but the results won't be worth the effort required to get them. Just throw the junk out and move on....

Mr G
August 18, 2012 10:35 PM

What kind of advice says " There's very little you can say or do that will stop spam once you start getting it."

That is a 'cave-in' attitude. It's an attitude that allows such annoyances to continue.
Pretty much the same mindset that got all of us into this bottomed out economy.

Understand that you CAN do something.
A Whois search will tell you multiple spams coming from the same location or server or ip.
Then you Can and Should file a complaint with either the FTC, or any of several consumer reporting agencies.
If we 'turn the other cheek' too often, we only see life through the corner of one eye..

Current spamming techniques such as the use of botnets make the whois approach pretty pointless these days.

I don't consider it caving in. I consider it an extremely wasteful use of your time. There are people working the problem - just last week we heard of another major spamming operation getting taken down. You could spend all day reporting all the spam you get, and in the end it'll be at best redundant information that the various organizations fighting spam already have.

You're obviously welcome to do what you describe, but in my opinion it's a waste of the average computer user's time.
Leo
19-Aug-2012

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