How do I unsubscribe from all these unwanted emails?

There are emails from which you should certainly unsubscribe when you no longer want them. However there are emails that you absolutely should never unsubscribe from. I'll review the differences.

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I am receiving a lot of unwanted e-mails from diet pills to pet supplies and I don’t want to keep deleting 100 e-mails every time I check my mail. I hate going into each e-mail one-by-one to unsubscribe and I don’t know how safe it is for me to open those e-mails in the first place. I was wondering is there an easy free way to unsubscribe without needing to open the e-mail.

I know that this is confusing, but it’s important to realize that there are emails that you can and should unsubscribe from, and emails that you absolutely should never, ever “unsubscribe” from.

I’ll explain why that is, and what the relatively simple rules turn out to be.

Don’t unsubscribe from spam

What you are getting is most likely and simply spam. Spam is sent to random email addresses. You haven’t been “subscribed” at all. You’re just getting it like many people do: at random.

This is important: since you haven’t been subscribed, there’s nothing to unsubscribe from, even if there’s an “unsubscribe” link. Clicking on that unsubscribe link will not help. In fact, it’ll likely make matters worse.

You might be asking “if I’m not subscribed, then why is there an unsubscribe link?”.

Simple: spammers lie.

Like I said, spam is sent out at random and to email addresses that are both legitimate and not. The act of clicking that “unsubscribe” link actually confirms to the spammer that your email address is a real, valid email address with a real person reading it.

Lots of SpamFrom the spammers perspective it allows them to say the equivalent of “we got us a live one!”

And once they know that the email address is legitimate, they’ll start sending you MORE, not less, spam.

Thus this rule of thumb: “unsubscribing” from spam will only get you more spam.

Instead, click on the “This is Spam” button in your email program or interface to both get the email out of your inbox and train that service as to what spam looks like. That helps the service automatically identify spam for you in the future, and is by far the safest, most effective approach to dealing with spam using tools you probably already have at your disposal.

However…

Do unsubscribe from things you asked for

As a newsletter publisher myself, I do want to emphasize that when you’re ready to stop a legitimate mailing, a mailing that you subscribed to, you do want to use the unsubscribe link.

Do not click “this is spam” for legitimate email. When you click on “this is spam” for legitimate email that may actually cause other people – people who actually want it – to stop getting it.

The simple rules

So there are things that you should unsubscribe from, and there are things that you should never unsubscribe from.

The rules are actually fairly simple:

  • If you subscribed to a newsletter, clicked “yes, send me more info” or have some kind of a business relationship with the entity sending you email such as having purchased something from them in the past, then it’s probably legitimate mail and you should use the unsubscribe link.
  • If you’ve never heard of the sender and have no relationship with whatever is being promoted or discussed in the email then it’s likely spam and you should not use the unsubscribe link.

It’s unfortunate that we even have to think about these things, but the fact is spam continues to be a problem. Fortunately, a few moments of thought (“is this email legitimate?”) and the simple rules above should make it fairly clear on when it is, and is not, safe to unsubscribe.

For the spam, look into any of a number of anti-spam solutions and/or filters provided by your email program or ISP.

And never use the “This is Spam” button on email that you asked for.

This is a minor update to an article originally posted : August 15, 2009

There are 28 comments:

  1. Tony M. Reply

    Yes, this is absolutely excellent advice. There’s no better way to say it. However, readers who may be a little less IT savvy may be extremely perplexed by mentioning that “When you click on ‘this is spam’ for legitimate email that may cause other people – people who want it – to stop getting it.”

    I hope Leo will be able to answer that question in a later message: “How can my marking mail as spam affect the mail that others receive?” I think I know the correct answer, but I’ll leave that to the pro.

    Thanks, Leo … A great, great message.

    That’s actually addressed in the related article: Why shouldn’t I use the “Report Spam” or “Junk” button?

    Leo
    18-Aug-2009
  2. David Aharon Lindsay Reply

    A few Suggestions:

    re: 100 Spam emails

    Turn your Spam Watch on – Yahoo calls it SPAM GUARD]
    a] go through INBOX and anything you are sure you don’t want to read tick off as either “Read” or SPAM [2 steps]

    b] Move those to your email trash folder

    c] Open Trash and SPAM folders to check for mistakes

    d] Use Empty button to clean both Spam and Trash emails

    In following this approach you might see email you want that was placed by you or your email provider in the SPAM folder!

  3. Bev Robinson Reply

    When I receive an email from someone that I don’t recognize I use the block sender, bounce email on my email program (incredimail) I never receive another email from those senders.

  4. David Reply

    Something worth doing too is learning how to apply filters.

    Just because you mark something as spam doesn’t mean you won’t get a very similar spam the following day. It’s because marking something as Spam only identifies one particular source and ‘blacklists’ that source (and hence why it can hurt legitimate senders if you mark them incorrectly).

    Far better to learn to filter emails with keywords in the subject. For example, I expect I will NEVER receive legitimate email with the subject line containing the word ‘Pharmaceutical’ so I have a filter in place to automatically delete mails with that word in the subject.

    It can be tedious setting them up in the early days and it certainly pays to check your ‘deleted’ folder occasionally to make sure you’re not accidentally deleting friendly mail.

    As a point of interest, I’m sure they’ve made some adjustments now but Hotmail is/was a spam magnet (one reason many corporate firewalls disallow email from Hotmail email accounts!!).

    Conversely, in four years of having a gmail address, I’ve received about three spam messages and they were very cleverly constructed. Perhaps Google use their smarts to filter spam better than others?

    I had an ISP who actually charged a premium (can you believe that!!? – I wasn’t going to pay extra to overcome their sloppy standard service) for spam filtering and I’m told their filter rate wasn’t as good as Google’s.

    Anyway, enough of that rant. Learning to create filters is pretty simple and is one of the most worthwhile activities I can recommend. I get 80+ mails per day, I need as many helpers for sorting/deleting as possible.

    Keep up the good work Leo.

  5. Scott Reply

    Another point worth noting…an “unsubscribe” link can actually take you to an unsafe sight, opening yourself up to viruses, worms, and malware. Spam is really the least of your problem when you think about it. Spam is a nuisance, whereas virus/worm/malware can be catastropic.
    Thanks as always Leo…see you on the Tardis.

  6. Thomas Richards Reply

    I use a program called Mailwasher Pro by Firetrust. It allows me to bounce and delete unwanted email from the mail server before it ever gets to my local computer.

  7. Tom Reply

    David has the best answer I have found. A Gmail account solved virtually all of my spam problems. My ISP had so much trouble with attacks on their system a couple of years ago, that they switched all email service over to Google. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea at the time, but went along with it. The fact I didn’t understand at the time was that I would need a separate Gmail address, but could continue with my old address as my main email contact. All “valid” email was just forwarded over to my new Gmail account, and the original address has served as a great spam filter.
    Since I have my own real estate web site, and publish my email address (original) in newspaper ads and on literature, I get about 300 emails a day. With the above system in place, about 30-40 get through to my new gmail account, and the rest are caught in the old account. When I have time, I scan through the suspect emails and simply hit delete all.
    The fact that I periodically find an email from a new client in the “Spam” account is usually easy to spot and send on to my “good” account.
    Works for me!

  8. Alan Taplow Reply

    Take a look at: http://firetrust.com/en/products/mailwasher-pro

    Their product, Mailwasher, lets you preview your e-mail and bounce messages back as if you never existed. You can keep messages from ever entering your e-mail program. I’ve been using if for several years and have pretty near solved my spam problems.

  9. Shawn Reply

    On the other hand, some legitimate emailers do not bother to pull you from their subscriber list after you have unsubscribed. The only way I have found on these is to mark as spam or setup a filter for them, and quite frankly, a single click on “This is spam” is easier.

    If they don’t respond to a proper unsubscribe, I’d have a hard time calling them “legitimate” – but do make sure you’re following their unsubscribe instructions properly.

    Leo
    18-Aug-2009

  10. Shawn Reply

    One other thing! I’ve used Hotmail for years. I used to get tons of spam in my inbox. But for the last few years, I get very few. Microsoft has done a good job of improving their filters. Granted, they could probably do better, but I have to say that I am quite satisfied with the service.

  11. Pete Ross Reply

    I too have been using Mail Washer for several years and find it to be a very effective spam prevention tool. Very easy to use. My ISP also provides “Barracuda”, an anti-spam program. This combination is working well.

  12. David Reply

    I, too have been using Mailwasher for years (bought the “pro” version to deal with multiple accounts) but the “bounce” facility is questionable these days. What spammer is going to take the trouble to sift through bouncers and bother to stop sending the stuff to particular addresses? After all, it costs them virtually nothing to just keep on sending, regardless. The few I do get, I just delete on the server.
    GMail is excellent for trapping spam. I have it set up on Thunderbird and just go the spam webpage folder a couple of times a week to make sure nothing has gone in there which is legit (rarely happens) and just leave it. Stuff in there gets deleted automatically, anyway.

  13. TOM T. Reply

    AFTER BUYING AN ITEM FROM A FIRM I COULD NOT UNSUBSCRIBE TO THEIR CONSTANT E-MAILS. THEIR CHANGE OF ADDRESS WORKED AND I SIMPLY CHANGED TO A FICTITIOUS ADDRESS.

  14. Charles Tilley Reply

    i get tons of spam in my Yahoo box. Mainly,a lot of junkmail and schemes. Opera and Hotmail does a very good job of filtering out the trash.Occasionly,a piece of junk,but no emails promising large amounts of cash. I NEVER click to these links,though I sometimes read the letter. I’m considering closing my Yahoo account because of the large volume of junk and ripoffs I receive.

  15. Christine Reply

    SPAMCOP…it works, but it is not immediate. It costs $30/yr and its reporting system actually causes the spammers to lose their accounts, one by one. Though Mailwasher gives immediate satisfaction, bouncing does not work in the long run. Spammers need to be physically shut out of their email accounts, one by one.

  16. Charles Mulhern Reply

    I handle this problem by using the “select all” option upon opening my e-mail inbox. Then I read through the list and deselect the e-mail that I want to read – if I don’t know who it is, I don’t need it. Then I hit the delete button and all of the stuff I don’t want goes away. Usualy 50 e-mails ends up as 5 or so.

  17. Carolyn McRae Reply

    I use Block Sender for spam mail yet I don’t see other people saying this. What are your thoughts on using this method?

    Hard to say without knowing what email program/system you’re using. In general the concept fails because so many spam emails use spoofed “From:” addresses. You could accidently end up blocking email from someone whose email you really wanted.

    Leo
    27-Aug-2009

  18. farhana anjum Reply

    i am continously receiveing 100 of unwanted mail really annoyed thinking to close yahoo account

  19. Alice Huntly Reply

    The spam that I get has no unsubscribe link in it. This in itself indicates that it is not legitimate because as I understand it, it is a requirement that you should be able to request to not get emails from people you don’t want to get emails from. Is there any way to stop these annoying people? I wast alot of time trying to sort through my emails each day.

  20. Tracey Dooley Reply

    I too receive many (hundreds, literally) of unsolicited email every day. Those that are obvious spam email go straight into the spam box to be trashed (but I always make sure I give a cursory glance over them to be sure I’m not missing an important or interesting email from a peer/client).

    I personally would never use a program that blocks so-called ‘spam’ because often legitimate email can be incorrectly marked as spam. Also, I would never block a sender if they sent me an unsolicited email, UNLESS they repeatedly kept sending me emails when I have asked them not to, or they are obviously spammers. The reason I don’t block an email from someone I don’t recognise — as Bev says she does — is because of what I said before; some people are sending legitimate emails simply offering something that may or may not be of interest or use. If it isn’t, it doesn’t take much to hit the delete key, does it? :)

    Overall, I think you can generally tell if an email is from an illegitimate source. Usually, I’ll take a look at the ones that have taken the time to personalise their email. You never know, an unsolicited but legitimate email might just come in useful.

    • bill Reply

      The good spam filters (like the one for Gmail) do an extremely good job of getting rid of spam without getting rid of good messages, once you have used them for a while.
      The key is to also glance at the spam filter occasionally for any good messages that landed there. Since I have folders for most of my good email (based on topic or groups), they stand out extra well in the spam folder. When you mark them as not spam, the filter also learns that. I don’t need to white list anyone, it just learns the few organizations that send me legitimate but spammy looking email.
      Gmail is down to maybe one good message getting caught in the spam every couple months.

  21. Brian Reply

    I disagree somewhat. for 1 month I unsubscribed to everything…and I try to send a polite sentence to those who don’t have a link asking to be removed. The result:

    About 35-50 emails a day that qualify as spam down to 5 or so a day.

    In my case, about 7 years ago I filled out a bunch of forms for survey taking. It ended up being a scam but my email was out there for so many offers and survey companies.

    I learned later to use an internet activity email address for responding to ads and making inquiries about services online.

    The result is I’m pretty satisfied with very little spam, and things I don’t care about at all go to another email.

  22. wanda mccormick Reply

    please delete me from this e-mail, because I am getting this in my other account.
    Thank You,

  23. Glen Reply

    this is why i like my G mail. right click on the Google icon in the task bar, it won`t work with the desktop icon, and left click incognito. since i`ve been on G mail i`ve only seen spam 3 or 4 times. and G mail always warned me that it is “probably” spam.

  24. Dave Reply

    I agree with Leo. I have left spam up to Gmail provider and where there used to be hundreds of spams now there is 1 per month all because I didn’t touch it and Gmail saw it as spam and obviously has done the hard work of shutting down the spammers. Thx Gmail!

  25. Paul - Minot, ND Reply

    I think this may have already been alluded to earlier (a few years ago), but Incredimail offers a feature called “Bounce to Sender”. This, purportedly, returns the message to the sender and makes it appear as if you are not a valid (current) email address. I use this frequently and, to the best of my recollection, have not heard from that sender again.

  26. Jon Reply

    I’ve never understood why some people get tons of spam while other people get very little. I, myself, have had two email addresses for years — one at Yahoo and another with my internet provider — and I get very little spam. One or two a day, at most. Many days, not even that. Yet, I know people whose habits on the internet aren’t much different from my own who receive dozens and dozens of spam emails a day. I just don’t understand why some people seem to be so much more vulnerable to spam than other people. If it’s something about their internet habits that’s making them vulnerable to receiving spam.

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