Someone Is Signing Me Up for Newsletters I Don’t Want — What Can I Do?

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Some nasty minded individual, maybe an upset employee or an ex-employee seems to be trying to disrupt my email. Recently I’ve started receiving very many free subscriptions to all kinds of online newsletters, publications and other absolute garbage ranging from kids’ clothes to women’s makeup to porn. One day I received over 50 and they keep on coming.

Probably half of these do the correct thing in that I have to respond before they will add me to their mailing lists. The problem is that the other half doesn’t and I just keep getting their emails. Most of these are really a pain to get rid of. I’ve tried unsubscribing many times but they keep coming back. I’m using Thunderbird as my email client, which really doesn’t have any effective spam filter, that I’m aware of. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do?

The very short answer is to treat the messages as spam. I’ll explain why, and I’ll talk about Thunderbird’s spam filter (which does exist), and an alternative solution within Thunderbird.

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Confirmed opt-in

This is one of the reasons that most reputable email newsletters and other services have what is called a double or confirmed opt-in. What that means is that it’s not enough to simply provide an email address to sign up. The person receiving email at that address must take a second step to confirm that they did indeed sign up and do want the email.

It’s how the Ask Leo! newsletter works; you provide an email address, you get an automatic email, then you confirm your subscription by clicking the link provided in that automatic email. Only then do you start getting hew newsletter.

As you can see, mailings that do not use confirmed opt-in are subject to abuse; and that’s why I feel it’s appropriate to label such emails as spam. If you’re getting things you didn’t personally sign up for, that’s almost the very definition of spam. That the originator didn’t use confirmed opt-in, to be put it bluntly, is their problem. They’re going to get marked as spam more often than more well-behaved newsletters will.

To be even more blunt, they should be using confirmed opt-in, and this is the price of not doing so. So I have no problem whatsoever marking them as spam.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird does indeed have a “learning” junk mail or spam filter. If you right-click on a message, you can mark it as junk, for example, and Thunderbird should learn over time. You might also need to enable junk-mail filtering in the settings for that specific email account. It may not be as good as other junk mail filters, but it’s definitely there.

Thunderbird Junk Settings

An alternative is to use Thunderbird’s ability to create what are called message rules or filters to dispose of the unwanted messages. Since these are typically newsletters sent from a consistent source, you can define a message processing rule, or filter, that basically says, “if the message is from this sender (where the sender is one of those unwanted newsletter senders) then delete it”, or move it to a folder, or mark it as junk… or whatever else you might want to do.

Yes, you may have to add or update a filter for each new subscription you end up getting but don’t want. But then at least that subscription will be taken care of and will stop showing up in your inbox.

Unsubscribe is risky

Unfortunately, I also have to urge caution on using those unsubscribe links. Since we don’t know what kind of things you’re being signed up for, it’s very possible that the unsubscribe links don’t actually unsubscribe you. It’s possible that like unsubscribe links in traditional spam, they could result your getting more, not less, unwanted email.

Use your best judgment since some are probably legitimate. But if there’s any doubt, don’t click on an unsubscribe link. Use your spam filter or message rules to deal with that subscription instead. Hopefully, the person trying to annoy you will eventually get tired and give up.

9 comments on “Someone Is Signing Me Up for Newsletters I Don’t Want — What Can I Do?”

  1. What I do using Thunderbird is put a pesky email sender that repeats on a filter set to delete automatically.

    TB itself is really pretty good at spotting spam. Although this morning it had put Leo’s Newsletter into Spam so it pays to do a quick review of Trash before deleting.

    That way I won’t be responding to a spammer and getting even more spam.

  2. Dear friends, family, and acquaintances,
    For reasons, involving spam (unsolicited commercial emails), I’ve found it necessary to create a new email address.
    As I want you to have my new email addy, please copy it into your info. Thanks.
    I’ve learned, form Ask-Leo and other sources, an important detail concerning spam, which I’ll mention here, in case it may be of help to you also.
    When I get spam, I should never respond, even to unsubscribe. This just lets spammers know they have a ‘live’ email address, and they’ll attach it to other email lists, for use and sale.
    In future, I will always mark spam as spam first, then delete it. This is how spam filters learn what I call spam.
    Love, TTYL, bye4now, etc,
    ME

  3. I had a similar problem with a very well known online auction site. Suddenly started getting email from the site welcoming me as a new user (having been with them for more than 10 years). A well known online bank also started sending me emails welcoming me as a new customer. Then I started getting emails from the new user’s customers and when the emails became threatening (for non payment) I got on the phone. Was difficult getting this problem fixed and to me highlights a problem with unverifiable email addresses. The way this currently works with this company is that anyone can create an account and use any email address they like.

  4. Is there a legal way to ask the vendor of these sites for the url that came in with the request to sign up for these email lists?

    I would think they would have that connected with the request and the email address to identify where the original message came from.

    Thank You.

    • That can be one solution, but it’s definitely annoying to have to do that every so often. I know my “primary” email address is one that I expect people to know, and one that I expect to use for life.

    • If you are referring to the Ask Leo! newsletter, you can click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of any newsletter addressed to you. Something similar should work for all legitimate newsletters. If they don’t have an unsubscribe link, mark them as spam.

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