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

Unsolicited commercial email, or spam, is a plague, a problem and a pain. These questions and answers cover identifying spam, where spam comes from, why it exists and what we can do about it.

A friend got email that looked like it was from me, but with the wrong email address. What do I do?

This is clearly something you were able to track down to a Facebook-specific relationship. But all it really is... is spam.

A spammer is using my cgiemail, what do I do?

Cgiemail is a program that many websites use to send email. Unfortunately certain versions can be abused by spammers, and you get the blame.

Are celebrities dying at an alarming rate?

I look at a recent rash of spam / malware claiming that your favorite celebrities have died.

Can I block spam based on country or time of day?

Blocking spam is a huge job. The state of the art in spam fighting these days is complex technology that analyzes characteristics in each email based on what users have marked as spam.

Can email providers limit how much email I send?

One of the techniques many mail providers use to reduce the flood of spam is to limit how much email you can send in a certain period of time.

Can't we just charge spammers per email they send?

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to trace spam to a specific place and charge them. There just isn't.

Did I really get a critical update notification for Outlook Express in my email?

Emails that look like a critical update from Microsoft are scams. We'll look at exactly what makes the scam obvious.

Did I really just win an email lottery or sweepstakes?

We all receive emails that indicate we've won several different lotteries. Are any of these winning notifications valid? I'll review what to look for.

Do people really still fall for this stuff?

It seems with all the constant news and awareness about spam it would disappear as people fail to fall for it. Sadly, that's nowhere near the case.

Does blocking junk mail senders help?

Blocking spam based on the email address it comes from is pretty pointless. I'll look at why and what you should do instead.

Does getting porn spam mean that you've been surfing porn sites?

Porn spam doesn't mean anyone did anything illicit. Spam simply is. Lack of spam doesn't imply you've been good, either.

Does reporting spam help?

Services exist which will take your spam and promise to do something with it to help reduce spam. We'll look at whether they're worth using.

Does spam blocking prevent spam from reaching my machine?

How can I automatically reply to spammers telling them to stop and that I'm not reading their junk?

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.

How can I reject email from unwanted senders?

Rejecting email from specific unwanted senders turns out to be surprisingly difficult unless your mail provider or email program supports it directly.

How can I stop having to deal with annoying advertising emails every day?

Other than stopping spam on your end, there's little you can do to prevent it. The best bet is to learn to use the spam filters in your email program.

How do I get senders that I've marked as spam to end up in the spam folder thereafter?

Getting spam into the spam folder is tricky because spammers constantly change their names and email addresses. The best you can do is train your filters.

How do I obtain the ID of a spammer to block their spam?

You can't effectively block a spammer's ID, IP address, or "from" email address because they'll just change it and keep sending spam. There's only one way to battle spam.

How do I prevent spam and scam emails from being sent to me?

Stopping spam is essentially an impossible task. We'll look at the steps you should be taking to stem the tide and stay sane.

How do I stop legitimate email from going to my spam folder?

Legitimate mail ends up in the spam folder because somewhere, somehow, some spam filter thought it was spam. I'll look at why, and what to do.

How do I stop spam?

The practical reality is that you can't stop spam. The best that you can do is deal with it as efficiently as possible using the technologies that you have in your hands today.

How do I stop this disgusting email from being sent to me?

Spam happens, and sometimes it really looks bad. The best way to protect yourself is to learn how to use your spam and junk filters effectively.

How do I unblock email to me that my ISP is blocking without asking?

Email providers use many techniques to attempt to stem the flow of spam. Occasionally, those techniques can cause legitimate mail to be blocked as well.

How do I unsubscribe from all these unwanted emails?

Spam often includes an unsubscribe link, yet you were never subscribed in the first place. "Unsubscribing" will likely only make matters worse.

How do spammers know what sites I visit?

It can be disconcerting to get spam that seems related to the sites you visit. It's probably not related, but there are a couple of ways it might be.

How do spammers send email that looks like it comes from me?

An email address isn't the same as an email account. It's trivial to send email "From:" an email address without access to the account.

I keep getting bounce emails for addresses on my domain that don't exist. How can I stop this?

As a result of techniques used by spammers you may get bounces for email you never sent. There's little you can do.

I've been accused of sending random emails - could I have a virus?

Infected machines are thought to be a leading cause of spam today. What you should do if you're infected, and how to keep from being a spammer.

I've been wrongly labeled as a spammer. What can I do about it?

It's not that uncommon for email to bounce and bounce in ways that implies that you might be spamming. I'll look at what might or might not be happening.

Is anyone doing anything about what could be an ever increasing amount of spam?

As the volume of spam increases, I believe that the email industry will ramp up their technologies to help continue to make email manageable for folks like you and me.

Is it safe to open email that's in my junk mail folder?

There are two kinds of mail that can end up in your junk or spam folder. It's really best not to look at the bad stuff!

Is this receipt for software I didn't order valid?

One popular Internet scam is to make something look like an honest mistake that would let you download something expensive for free. Don't fall for it.

Please don't spam me!

Asking someone not to spam you when handing over your email address is probably ineffectual. Consider carefully before you give out your information.

Should I unsubscribe from things I've signed up for to avoid spam?

Whether or not an unsubscribe link is safe to use can be incredibly difficult to determine. Here are some rules of thumb.

Someone's sending email that looks like it's coming from my domain. What can I do?

The problem is that the from address on an email is incredibly easy to spoof. Fortunately, that spam has nothing to do with your servers.

What do terms like "opt-in", "opt-out" and "double opt-in" mean?

Particularly when dealing with email, terms like opt-in and opt-out have specific meanings that often clarify what is, and is not, spam.

What do the "Report and Delete" or "This is Spam" buttons do?

Reporting spam can help you get less spam, but you need to use it properly, and realize just who you're reporting spam to.

What happens when I mark something as spam?

Marking spam as spam is an important tool in the war against it, but exactly what happens when you do so is clouded in mystery.

What is "greylisting"?

What is 'denied by gorbs' in bounced email?

Gorbs is a black-listing email service and it could black-list your email accidentally.

What is the security related information I need to change to secure an email account?

Security-related information in your email account is used to recover your account. But what if the hacker now has access to all that?

What's a botnet? Or zombie? And how do I protect myself from whatever it is?

Botnets are implicated in the increase in spam in recent months. Bad news: many are infected and part of the problem. Good news: it's easy to avoid.

What's this confirmation request I got when I emailed someone?

Challenge/Response is a spam fighting technique that forces you to prove you're human before your message will be delivered. It's controversial, to say the least.

What's this spam-fighting technique called?

Challenge/Response is a controversial spam fighting technique that forces senders to validate themselves before their email will be accepted.

When will Hotmail return an undeliverable message?

Email services are now very inconsistent in how they approach undeliverable or "bounce" messages. We'll look at why, and what you can count on.

Why I (still) don't like challenge/response spam blockers

An error caused my newsletter to come "From" the wrong address. Flooded with challenge/response mails I wonder: what other messages are you missing?

Why am I getting email addressed to someone else?

Not a day goes by I don't get email addressed to someone else with my address nowhere to be found. The reason? Spam.

Why am I getting email from someone with the wrong email address?

Many people are receiving spam that looks like it comes from someone they know, but with the wrong email address for that person. I'll take a look at what's going on, and what you need to pay attention to.

Why am I getting spam from myself?

Among the spam we all get are messages that we appear to have sent ourselves. From-spoofing is just a way spammers try to get their email delivered.

Why am I getting spam on this email address I use only for one newsletter?

There are many ways spammers harvest email addresses. While unlikely, simply sending and receiving email might well be enough.

Why am I getting spam with my email address but with a different name?

Spammers use many techniques to fool you into opening and acting on their messages. I'll look at what they do to your email address.

Why am I not getting some emails in my MSN Live Hotmail account?

One of the casualties of the war against spam is reliable email deliverability. Sometimes mail simply never shows up. We'll look at what can be done.

Why am I only sometimes getting newsletters I signed up for? Is there a subscription limit?

Fighting spam is an incredibly complex and unfortunately inexact effort. Spam filters use data from many places - including you - to determine what is and is not spam. I'll review what steps you should take to maximize getting what you expect.

Why am I suddenly getting spam?

Getting spam is the norm these days. If you suddenly start getting spam when before you had not, the question isn't "why?" - it's "what took so long?"

Why are people claiming I'm spamming them?

There are a couple reasons why people might claim you're spamming them when in fact you are not.

Why can't I block this email sender?

Most email programs have the ability to block email from a specific address. Unfortunately blocking a sender it an ineffective way to block most spam.

Why can't we catch spammers and phishers?

It seems like it should be easy to trace spam and phishing attempts to their origin. Sometimes it is, but it's often a very complex and costly process.

Why do I keep getting these illegible letters I'm supposed to decipher when sending email?

Those are CAPTCHA tests are to prove that you are a real human and not an automated computer trying to send spam, but it shouldn't happen on every email.

Why do hackers hack and spammers spam?

Malware and viruses have changed over the years. Today's rash of botnets and viruses have different reasons and goals for hacking than they did decades ago.

Why does blocking a spam email end up blocking my own address?

Spammers use various techniques to try and force their way into your inbox. One of the most frustrating is spoofing where the message is coming from.

Why does so much spam have a part of some other email or document in it?

A recently common technique in the war to send you spam is to include a lot of unrelated text in the message. We'll look at why this often works.

Why don't blocked emails stay blocked?

Blocking is an ineffective way to prevent unwanted emails. It's better to learn spam filtering.

Why has the spam I'm seeing increased?

If spam has increased in your Gmail account.. it's just a fact of life. The question is whether or not Gmail's spam filter is catching it.

Why is there an email block against my IP address?

One approach to prevent spam is blocking email from the IP address of known spammers. Like any spam fighting technique, there are false positives.