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How Can I Automatically Reply to Spammers To Tell Them to Stop?

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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, more commonly called spam: email you never signed up for and you simply don’t want.

Never, ever reply to spam. Period.

It won’t help, and will more likely make things worse.

So, while I suppose you could set up an automated reply, that’s not what I’m going to show you.

Instead, let me explain why replying to spam — automated or manually — is a really, really bad idea.

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Replies to spam don’t go where you think

When you reply to an email, your reply is sent to the address listed in the “From:” field1 in the original email.

The problem is that the “From:” line in spam is generally a lie. It’s rarely the person or organization that sent the mail. More commonly, it’s the email address of someone who is completely unrelated to the spam message.

If you reply to spam, the person who gets your message can do nothing about the spam. In fact, they could claim that you’re now spamming them.

“From: spoofing”, as it’s called, is used by spammers to hide themselves. It makes tracing the real source of spam difficult, if not impossible.

Replies to spam confirm you’re real

Spam!Spammers send email to millions of addresses at a time, including many that are bogus. (Another reason for faking the “From:” address is so the spammer doesn’t get all the resulting bounces.)

Why?

It’s 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 addresses they send to are valid.

Sometimes spammers do pay attention to your reply, but not in the way you want.

If they pay attention to it, they may use it to confirm that your email address is valid and their spam has been read by a real person. Note that they will not read your message. They don’t care what you have to say. By replying, all you’ve done is confirm to them that your email address is legitimate.

That’s exceptionally valuable information to spammers, giving your email address gold status among their targets.

The result is that you’ll 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 you did not sign up for — then mark it as spam in your email program or email service.  They will use the assorted characteristics of the message to better identify and automatically filter spam in the future.

If it is something you signed up for, then unsubscribe. Mark it as spam only if the unsubscribe process doesn’t work.

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

Delete it and move on

If you don’t have the option to mark it as spam, or it doesn’t seem to help, simply 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.

As a last resort, you might consider moving to an email service that has a better spam filter. While not perfect, as of this update Google Mail remains the most effective, in my opinion.

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Footnotes & references

2 Or the “Reply-To:” field, if there is one. Also easily spoofed.

35 comments on “How Can I Automatically Reply to Spammers To Tell Them to Stop?”

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

    • That only works with spammers dumb enough to use one email address in the from line.
      Most use many addresses (looking a lot like gibberish) or randomly selected addresses that belong to someone else. Your method requires you to tag every different email address that they happen to use.

      If you are using an email system like gmail, open it with a web browser and mark spam and false positives (things in the spam folder that should not be). This trains their filters to hit more real spam (using many items other than the fake email addresses) and also trains it to things that you want but look like spam.

  4. 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!!

  5. 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

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

  7. 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 http://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.

  8. 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

    • I have considered that Gmail should have a bounce message available for their filters.
      Since they send a bounce message if a user doesn’t exist, spammers can look for a lack of a bounce message to indicate an active address. Google is effectively verifying addresses for spammers.

      • As the article mentions, spammers don’t pay any attention to the emails they receive other than to verify that they have a live one and makes your address more valuable to be sold. And in most, if not all cases, spammers don’t even receive the messages sent to the return address. Often the return address is of a person who’s been hacked and infected with a bot sending out the emails. The poor hacked person would be receiving the bounces. Although, that might not always be bad as it might be a clue to them that they’ve been hacked.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

      • That comment you are commenting on is 8 years old. But you are right. Google never made such a claim. That is from a less than informative website. Email service providers hold on to spam for a number of days so that you have time to go through the Spam folder and root out any false positives. They do nothing to stop the spammer from sending more spam, although as you train the spam filter, it should recognize more spam and place it in the spam folder.

        • I just opened my gmail spam folder and it does say files will be automatically deleted in 30 days.
          – Messages that have been in Spam more than 30 days will be automatically deleted. –
          That is a direct copy and paste from the gmail spam folder. So it looks like it has not changed since December 24, 2010 to today 21 June 2018. P.S. Happy Summer Solstice.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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….

  15. 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
  16. SpamBully for Outlook has a “Fight Back” feature for emails tagged as spam…it reports them to spam@uce.gov and ALSO sends a complaint to the internet provider! I’ve gotten a number of messages that the spamming site has been closed down.

    • I have had a couple of good results from reporting a spammer (that was using legitimate mailing services) but he won in the end.
      He was sending many messages a day with a return address and info on the mailer he was using. By far the largest source of spam.
      One service shut him off but he moved to a new mailer within a week.
      The new service shut him off but I suspect that they did not remove my address from the info they gave him about failing to meet their non-spam policy.
      I immediately started getting much more spam from random sources. I assume that he forwarded (sold?) my email to spam lists.

  17. Noone above has mentioned SpamCop although I know Leo had an article about it once. All my e-mail accounts are set not to block spam. I forward all spam I receive to spamcop.com and it is now rare that I get more than a half dozen spam messages a week and usually less than that. I recently had a sudden spate of e-mails in Italian. They stopped within days. Maybe I’m lucky, but I like to think I may be doing some good.

    Incidentally, I understand that Yahoo mail (and other services like Sky that use Yahoo) automatically deletes any message it sees as spam and you cannot stop it doing so. It would be interesting to know how effective it is at avoiding false positives.

    • I use Yahoo email as a secondary service. It has a Spam folder as one of its basic folders in which it puts emails it thinks are spam. It doesn’t delete them at all. Occasionally I go through to check for false positives & then “empty” my Spam folder.

      • I decided not to use Yahoo Mail from Sky after reading this criticism on the relevant forum. My understanding is that if Yahoo thinks it has correctly identified a message as spam, it will delete it without notice but if it looks like spam but Yahoo is unsure, the message is indeed placed in the spam folder. Articles on how to change this behaviour are searchable.

  18. My ISP has a maximum limit that it allows me to keep on their server. Therefore, I subscribe to IncrediMail which has numerous editing features I like and removes the email(s) from my ISP’s server.

    But I’ve noticed messages coming into my IncrediMail marked *** Spam *** which are definitely NOT Spam, including some from “Ask Leo.” When I looked at my email inbox from my ISP, I noted that those messages marked as *** Spam *** (in the IncrediMail inbox) were not so marked in the ISP inbox.

    Any idea why some are and some are not marked as spam from the same sender?

    • I have the same issues… Gmail marks something as spam, stuff which 1) I have subscribed to and 2) most definitely NOT spam.

      I can mark it as not spam and it may work for a period of time and then it starts marking the mail from same sender as spam.

      Why? It certainly isn’t being triggered by typical spam content… and the email address does not look “spammy”

      And… INFORMATIONAL WARNING: Readers Digest webpages are ALL infested… every, single, page… plonks a trojan onto your computer. Fortunately Windows Defender sees it and quarantines but it is a general PITA!

      • If other people are marking messages that look like those things as spam, then the spam filter “learns” from them as well. That’s why marking things as spam can affect what others will receive — or not.

    • Spam filter algorithms are very complex as spammers use many techniques to mask the fact that their emails are spam. The filters simply get it wrong sometime. It may be that Incredimail doesn’t have such great spam filters. From my experience, the best email accounts for filtering spam are GMail and Yahoo is also not bad. Those filter the spam before it even gets to your email program. You can even route the mail from your current email account through Gmail so you don’t have to change your email address.
      How Do I Route My Email through Gmail?

    • Some spam filter in the path thinks those are spam and is marking them such. All you can do is to see if you can identify which service is adding that, and then see if there’s a way to report to THAT service that the email is not spam.

  19. If your WebMail or e-Mail Client has *WildCard Spam Filters Use’em! Example: I can zap all e-Mail end in .ru w/ *.ru or a e-Mail title containing the word Rolex. I test my spam filters first by sending them to a test folder first… afterwards smirk ;}

    A word to the wise delete your yahoo mail account – why? Ymail Sells your personal Info to evil SpamVertisers & back in 2016 installed a RootKit on users computers; ‘avoid those yahoos like the plague’!

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