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How Do I Get Off Email Lists I Don’t Want to be On?

To unsubscribe or not to unsubscribe: that is the question.

Subscribe or Unsubscribe?

To unsubscribe or not to unsubscribe: that is the question. The answer depends on how you got there.
How does one get off of an unwanted email distribution list? Does clicking the “unsubscribe” button really work? That just seems to generate more.

It depends on how you got on the list in the first place.

Sometimes “unsubscribe” is exactly the right thing to do.

Sometimes you should avoid it at all costs.

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TL;DR:

The general rule is simple: click on the unsubscribe link for emails you asked to be on, and never click on unsubscribe for unrequested emails/spam. Marking as spam should never be your first choice when it’s email you explicitly signed up for, but if an unsubscribe request isn’t honored in a timely fashion, then it’s become spam.

If you subscribed to the list

If you subscribed to the email list yourself, then clicking the unsubscribe link is exactly the right thing to do.Tweet this!

That means at some point, you:

  • Filled out a form to subscribe
  • Joined an organization with a mailing list
  • Made a purchase
  • Made a purchase and also checked some kind of a “send me updates” checkbox
  • Some other explicit step you recall

99% of the time, click unsubscribe and you’ll be removed from the mailing list without any hassle.

Naturally, there’s that other 1% where things don’t go as promised.

I give lists a couple of days to remove me. Some lists tell you “It may take up to 48 hours for you to be removed.” There should be no need — unsubscribing from an email list should be instantaneousTweet this! — but I’ve seen lists claim it takes up to a week.

I may not give them a week, but I usually give them a couple of days.

If you continue to get emails after that, it’s time to call it what it has become — spam — and follow the guidelines below.

If you didn’t subscribe

If you’ve been placed on a list you didn’t ask to be on, then by definition, it’s spam.

NEVER click an unsubscribe link in spam.Tweet this! You’ll just get more spam.

Clicking on the unsubscribe link in spam tells spammers that you actually read email sent to this email address, and thus you become a bigger target.

The best way to deal with spam is simple: if it appears in your inbox, mark it as spam every time it arrives. Your email program will eventually learn that email like this is spam, and should either be rejected outright or delivered into your spam folder, where you need not look at it.

One “this is spam” caveat

If you subscribed, try to unsubscribe first.

“This is spam” should not be your first choice to stop receiving something you asked for. Give the provider the chance to do the right thing. Only when they fail to remove you from the list should you mark it as spam.

The issue is that when you mark something as spam, it makes it less likely that others who want the mail will get it. Spam detection is complex, but one of the signals used is the “this is spam” button. If enough people hit it, the mail will be more likely to be filtered as spam for everyone.

Clicking “this is spam” on legitimate email unjustly punishes the folks who play by the rules.

Related questions

How do I unsubscribe from unwanted emails?

To unsubscribe from email lists that you originally asked for but no longer want, click the unsubscribe link in the most recent email. Do not try to unsubscribe from email you didn’t request, but rather mark it as spam or junk.

How do I remove my email from spam lists?

You cannot remove yourself from spam lists used by spammers. The only thing you can do is mark spam as spam when it arrives. While you will still get spam, as everyone does, it will eventually be delivered to your spam or junk folder rather than your inbox.

Is it safe to click unsubscribe in spam emails?

It is never safe to click unsubscribe in spam emails. This tells spammers that you exist and you read your emails. Rather than unsubscribing you, they will send you more spam.

Should you block spam emails?

It’s generally a waste of effort to try to block spam emails. The “From:” address in spam is generally forged, and changes all the time. Blocking only applies to a single “From:” address, and would have no impact as the fake sender continues to change it.

Is it better to block or delete spam?

Neither blocking nor deleting spam is worth the effort. The better approach is to train your spam filter by marking spam as spam. This will move it to your spam or junk folder so you need not see it, and will tell the spam filter “mail that looks like this is spam,” so it will hopefully do a better job of sending spam directly to the spam folder instead of your inbox.

Why am I suddenly getting spam emails?

It may appear that you are suddenly getting spam, or getting more spam, but in reality, everyone gets spam, and often lots of it. It’s not uncommon for spam to come in waves, particularly if your email address makes its way onto more spammer lists. There’s little to be done other than marking spam as spam and getting on with your life.

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20 comments on “How Do I Get Off Email Lists I Don’t Want to be On?”

  1. It is amazing how often I have seen people post (to a list that only goes out by explicit request to get it) asking how to unsubscribe when it is posted at the bottom of every message. I have even seen some rude name calling and saying that they would report the list if they are not taken off.

    Reply
    • Probably because people forget that they subscribed and then see dumb articles like this one telling them not to use the unsubscribe button *unless* they subscribed.

      Reply
  2. If I unsubscribe and get a message that says “It may take up to 48 hours (or any time period) for you to be removed.” and I get any more emails from them, I’ll mark any new emails from them as spam. I don’t see that as punishing the innocent. It’s no longer requested and therefore spam. They should have done better.

    Reply
  3. “If you’ve been placed on a list you didn’t ask to be on, then by definition it’s spam. NEVER click an “unsubscribe” link in spam. As you’ve seen, you’ll just get more spam.”

    Nonsense. First, as to the old “you’ll get more spam” chestnut, there’s zero evidence to support the claim. In fact, when you think about it logically, the claim doesn’t even make sense. Second, legitimate companies buy, sell and rent email lists all the time. The easiest and more sensible way to get them to stop emailing you is to unsubscribe.

    Oh, boy.

    Reply
    • Unsolicited email, by definition, is spam. If a company buys an email distribution list and sends out emails to that list, it’s spam and illegal in many countries including the US.

      Many spammers do include an unsubscribe link to let them know they have a live email address. When you click the fake unsubscribe link, they get a notification that you saw that email and that makes your enail address more valuable to sell to other scammers.

      Reply
      • “Unsolicited email, by definition, is spam. If a company buys an email distribution list and send out emails to that list, it’s spam and illegal in many countries including the US.” – It would behoove you do a modicum of research prior to making such comments. The US CAN-SPAM Act absolutely permits unsolicited messages to be sent so long as it meets certain requirements – for example, that the message includes an unsubscribe link. That’s so that people can, you know, use it to unsubscribe.

        “Many spammers do include an unsubscribe link to let them know they have a live email address.” – Ha! Do you seriously believe that spammers – actual spammers; not legit companies – who send millions of spams per days using comprised computers that have been coopted into botnets are monitoring unsubscribe requests to conform validity of addresses? Sorry, but it’s an absurd suggestion. Do you have a single shred of evidence to support this ridiculous claim?

        Reply
          • Oh, boy. There have been an absolutely massive number of email addresses leaked as a result of data breaches in recent years with more than 1 billion being leaked last year alone. Guess what? Every one of those email addresses can now be bought in bulk for dirt cheap or traded for free (if you’ve got something to trade, that is). Random Gmail addresses will cost you $1 per 1 million addresses while a curated list of country-specific and/or industry-specific addresses will cost you a bit more. Bottom line: spammers don’t need to validate email addresses because lists of valid email addresses are already available and cost next to nothing.

            In fact, you don’t even need a list of email addresses to be able to send out spam. Instead, you can simply pay the operator of a botnet some bitcoin and they’ll do all the work for you. This has a couple of added benefits to DIY mailings:

            1. You don’t need your own email infrastructure; and
            2. Using a bot herder who’ve you anonymously paid in coin means you’re less likely to be caught by the authorities.

      • Also, here’s what this article should’ve said (some advice that is actually good):

        1. If you want to stop receiving emails, whether solicited or unsolicited, from a legitimate company, use the unsubscribe button. That’s why it’s there.
        2. If you’ve received spam selling Viagra or something similar, delete it and get on with your day.

        Pretty simple, eh.

        Reply
        • FrankC, you must be a bad lawyer for some spammer. You say “If you’ve received spam selling Viagra or something similar, delete it and get on with your day”. So, as per your advice, why wouldn’t you click the unsubscribe button before you go on with your day? And why are you calling it a “spam”? If the definition of “spam” is not unwanted mail, then that presumes you wanted the Viagra email. And didn’t you say there is no such thing as spam because there are legitimate companies sending out solicitations? Are you now calling Viagra illegitimate? Also, please tell us the name of your “legitimacy filter” you use so we can all benefit from it. Thank you. But seriously, try to relax.

          Reply
        • Dear Frank C.:
          Your reasoning sounds a bit off the mark to me. Regardless of how a company procures emails if anyone and I assume many are taking Leo’s advice as I have for years just by the power of reason w/o anyone prompting me, are placing these bad actors/player on their spam lists then they might want to have a filter that would make their lists even more valuable, namely “a real human has read this not a bot”. It doesn’t take a degree in computer code to see the cracks in your very ego centric opinion of your knowledge. 🙂 have a nice day dear expert. lol

          Reply
        • I get a lot of spam from “legitimate” companies to my work email because my email address is posted on the university website. I mark them as spam because I didn’t ask for those emails, therefore, by definition, they are spam. If that affects their reputation on spam filters, it was their own fault because they did something illegal.

          Reply
  4. I keep getting spam that no matter how many times I mark it as such, it just keeps coming. Another odd quirk is that all of it has the same FROM and TO names. When I look at the expanded TO name they all end in .us or .gdn.
    How do I get these two extensions recognized by the spam filter.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Depends on your email provider. Most email providers will have a configurable spam filter which allows you to block certain domains or specific email addresses. For example, if you use Gmail, Google “gmail spam filter settings” and you should see instructions on how to configure the filter. With my email provider I can block all emails from, say, *@*.gdn (that means any email from the .gdn domain).

      Reply
      • if you look at the top of the gmail page you`ll see “search mail” with an address bar like banner. click the down button and it has a way to (supposedly) delete emails you don`t want automatically. i`ve tried using this feature and the email`s still keep coming to my spam folder. gmail is a shell of what it used to be. for example, i log into my chrome book, when i`m done i sign out of everything i logged into. then say the next day i log into my my desk top. then log into my gmail. for some reason my desk top gmail tells me i`m still logged into my chrome book. even sign out other web sessions no longer works. there`s been times i`ve had to shut down my computer for whatever reason without signing out, gmail no longer tells me i`m signed in, in more than one place. although i still like my gmail, like i said, its a shell of what it used to be.

        Reply
  5. Good old MicroSquish’s newest E-mail program for Windows 10 doesn’t have a SPAM folder or any way to send unwanted junk-mail to Spam!
    Thank you, you stupid guys!

    Reply
  6. I think that this article is spot on most issues. However, If you have a simple email address, you may want to think about getting another email for your surfing. Just like most surfers have more than one board for surfing in different conditions, you should have more than one. Spammers download lists without the gmail or outlook or yahoo, etc and they add those extensions and use a bulk emailer. My gmail account is so old that I had to get a referral when I made it so I have a simple one. I notice spam by the introduction. They tend to use my email name, hello ********, instead of Mr. ******* or by my first name ****** because if they knew me then they would use my real mane is an easy way to detect but not always correct. This is why a second or even a third email is best. This is a simple filter and you can start to filter your personal email.

    Reply
    • I have a few email addresses to avoid spam. I have one for friends and important contacts, another for newsletters, and a third for more questionable signups such as purchases from companies I’m not sure of.

      Reply

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