What is Spam Email and How to Stop It?
Email communication is an integral part of every business. It’s a fast, inexpensive, and effective way of sending messages over the internet. Even with the emergence of alternative methods like Microsoft Team and Slack, email usage still dominates the world of business communication. But where there’s email, there’s spam email.
While unsolicited emails are often promotional in nature, a significant portion is malicious, aiming to damage or hijack your systems. Organizations should take proactive measures and learn how to block spam emails.
But first, what is spam email?
What is Spam Email?
Spam email, or junk email, refers to unwanted commercial messages sent in bulk. They often advertise products and services, but they can also contain fraudulent incentives and offers.
The name was derived from a Monty Python skit where the actor asked people to consume the canned port product, SPAM Lunch Meat, whether they liked it or not. Similarly, every email account holder is subject to spam email, whether they want it or not.
According to Statista, spam messages accounted for 41.5% of email traffic in March 2021. These emails can fall into different categories, including advertising, adult content, and phishing scams. Although stats show that spam email senders only get one response for every 12,500,000 emails sent, they still earn over $7,000 daily. Spamming is incredibly lucrative, and it’s not going anywhere.
Spam Email Example
Now that you have an idea about what is email spamming let’s get into an example. Attackers typically send emails containing mouth-watering offers or incentives like “how to make money online” or an “unbelievable discount” on popular software or hardware. Never engage with these types of emails. If it’s too good to be true, it almost always is.
Spam Email Techniques and Types
Spammers employ different techniques to bombard people with unsolicited messages. They try to create a sense of urgency, forcing recipients to perform actions and avoid thinking of the glaring inconsistencies of their requests.
Spammers adopt social engineering tactics in their spam campaigns. They perform in-depth research to gain an advanced understanding of the needs of their victims. Then they message them with a convincing story, aiming to trick them into revealing information or depositing funds. Below are some common techniques used by spam email senders:
- “Make money fast” or pyramid schemes: Most scammers leverage the fact that people are looking for various ways to make money online. So they send emails advertising numerous “fast ways to become a millionaire.”
- Alluring offers: These spam emails come in various forms. However, the most common of all are eCommerce discounts or “once-in-a-lifetime” travel packages.
- Stock offerings for unknown businesses: Investment scams promising massive returns are yet another category of offers that land in your inbox.
- Advance-fee scams: Spammers promise the victim a significant item or share of money in return for a small upfront.
- Other urgent offers that demand action: As a social engineering tactic, spammers leverage the urgency factor as much as they can. Whether the email asks you to send a small amount of money to get heritage from “a Nigerian prince” or buy a malware protection app, it rushes you into action.
While email is the most common spam delivery method, spam senders contact their victims via other channels too. These include ads, text messages, and calls. Whatever the means, spam is spam regardless.
Types of Spam Email
The sky’s the limit when it comes to spam emails. But there are a few popular categories that attackers find lucrative, such as the ones below:
This type of spam offers products designed to enhance sexual performance or enlarge certain body parts, contains pornography ads, or encourages recipients to view adult content. This method has been highly effective, but it’s not as fruitful anymore, and spammers are looking for new ways to scam victims.
Health spam email advertises “amazing” weight-loss products, dietary supplements, cures for baldness, and skincare. Victims are tricked into purchasing pills and remedies online. Always read reviews and do your research before parting with your money. One way to find out about a product is to do an online search with the following formula: “product name spam”.
This category of spam offers discounts on IT-related products. Security software and web services such as web hosting, website optimization, and domain registration are all popular. Hardware offers are also common.
Personal finance spam preys on financially desperate victims, offering access to funds, debt reduction services, insurance, and loans with low-interest rates. Spammers also send out emails advertising a “compete-and-win” offer to reduce mortgage payments.
Education and Training
Spam in this category offers “free” training, access to exclusive seminars, or amazing online courses or degrees. For instance, you can receive an email about an online Master’s degree in computer science, followed by a link that you need to click for registration or more information.
These kinds of spam emails use urgency (like “act fast before it’s too late”) as a social engineering tool to rush you into making a quick decision.
Is Spam Efficient?
Spam emails have been around almost as long as email. The first spam messages were sent in 1978 via email to hundreds of ARPANET users.
While spam email was the main evil in the 90s, its effectiveness is declining due to sophisticated spam detection and filtering.
These spam filters identify dangerous mail from attackers. According to Statista, the spam email rate has decreased dramatically in recent years. The global yearly spam email rate was 55% in 2018, down from 69% in 2012, and now at 45.1% in 2021.
The classic method of spamming is subsiding. But spammers still employ different social engineering tactics. They make their emails more genuine-looking to gain the trust of their victims.
How to Stop Spam Email
While spam emails are unavoidable, there are some ways you can prevent these unsolicited messages from bombarding your inbox. How to stop getting spam emails? Follow the tips below.
Don’t Keep Mixed-Use Email Addresses
Keep business emails professional. Don’t send an email from your personal address to your clients. Likewise, don’t use your business email for personal matters.
Use Spam Filters on the Company Network
Depending on the kind of email client your company uses, there’s usually an option to implement spam filters. This automatically sends all letters with a certain subject line, a particular source, or a specific word to your spam or trash folder.
You can reach out to your email client or read their guide on how to set the filter to prevent and remove spam messages. However, check the trash or spam folder before emptying it. Sometimes, it might contain a legitimate message.
Think Before you Click
Spam emails contain malicious links that can infect your system with malware. So when you receive an email from an unknown source, make sure it’s trustworthy and legitimate. Think carefully before you click on the link within the email – even “Unsubscribe” links can be loaded with malware.
Don’t Rush to Fulfill Requests via Email
Spammers try to create a sense of urgency using different social engineering tactics. Even if the message is from a legitimate source, we recommend you reach out to the sender to confirm the request before taking any action.
A good example is a financial accountant who received an email from the CEO to approve a payment. Get across to the boss and verify any request before fulfilling it as the attacker might pretend to be the CEO.
Investigate Unknown Senders
Don’t just open emails from unknown senders without proper investigation. Check the email header to confirm the source. You’ll find a button on the right-hand side known as “show original,” “view full header,” or “view source.” Confirm the “from-address” and the “reply-to” address. If they both contain the same address, it’s legit. But if the addresses are different, this may indicate that the email is malicious.
Look out for Typos or Grammatical Mistakes
We all make mistakes while rushing, but an organization sending out legitimate messages won’t contain punctuation or spelling mistakes. This is a red flag that the mail is suspicious. Hackers make mistakes knowingly to avoid spam filters. So be on the lookout for any typos or grammatical mistakes in your emails.
If it Seems Fishy, it’s An Attempt at Phishing
If you feel an email is fishy, this might be a phishing attempt. Don’t doubt your instinct. Confirm any email request from the proper authority before you take any action. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Now that you know what is spam email and how to prevent it, you can be more confident in protecting yourself and your organization.
While spam messages can contain malicious links or other dangerous malware, it doesn’t mean that you should stop using email to communicate with your customers and colleagues. Teach yourself and your employees to differentiate between legitimate and malicious communication.
Spam email is an entry point for many other social engineering attacks, so learning how to stay safe from various dangers on the internet is crucial for individuals and companies.