This area of the WebWise site, including online courses, is due to close at the end of July 2014.
For the latest WebWise films and articles, visit our new homepage http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise
If you are looking for alternative online courses for beginners, why not visit the www.digitalskills.com website and help someone get connected?
Print this article

How can I stop getting spam emails?

A woman buried by a pile of letters marked 'spam'

You are probably used to being bombarded with junk emails offering fake pharmaceutical products, dodgy loans and various adult services. But you can stop these junk emails – or ‘spam’ – by taking a few simple precautions and by using a spam filter.

Andrew Stucken | 9th September 2010

An estimated 90% of all emails sent are spam and deleting them is a big time-waster. Spammers are, unfortunately, getting ever more sophisticated and producing very plausible-looking messages which can fool even the wary.

It looks like you don't have Flash enabled on your computer. To view all the videos, tools and games on this website you will need to install the Flash player.

For information on how to do this, please visit the BBC WebWise guide to downloading Flash

Spammers use databases holding vast numbers of email addresses. You could get spammed because you:

  • Post to a newsgroup
  • Sign up for an internet service that asks for an email address
  • Give out your email address on your own website
  • Give your address to an online retailer

Why ‘spam’?

The term derives from a Monty Python sketch where a couple in a restaurant try to order something other than spam, the once-popular meat product. A group of Vikings in the background start singing the praises of spam and soon the only word you can hear in the sketch is ‘spam’.

The idea is that the same thing would happen to the internet – it would be totally overwhelmed by large-scale unsolicited emails.

How to stop spam emails

The best anti-spam measure is to be a bit savvy about the way you use your email account!

  • Try to avoid opening spam emails and clicking on links in spam messages.
  • Don’t buy anything from a spammer. Not only do you risk comprising your security and infecting your computer with malware - viruses and so on - you also reward and encourage the spammers.
  • Don’t be tempted to reply. The mailbox is probably unread.
  • Don’t threaten the spammer. Some mails will be seen and spammers have rights too. Threatening messages could expose you to legal action.
  • Avoid ‘unsubscribe’ options. Cynically, spammers often include an ‘unsubscribe’ link. Far from removing the menace, clicking it will confirm that your address is active and probably attract even more spam.
  • Use a disposable email address. You could use this account especially for buying online or writing to newsgroups. If you find that you are getting a lot of spam at this address, you can simply delete it and set up another.
  • Be wary about giving out your main email address. If in doubt, it is a good idea to use a disposable address (see above).
  • Never reveal your email address on your website. If you have a website, putting your email address on it will be easy fodder for a ‘spambot’ that is harvesting addresses. You could use a web contact form instead.
  • Munging. A simple but effective technique where you present your address in a way that people can easily work out but which will fool spambots. They will look for a pattern, such as a@b.com. Writing the address as ‘a at b dot com’ would probably evade them.

Spam filters

Many of the remaining messages can be blocked using a spam filter. ISPs (internet service providers) are increasingly providing the service, as well as some email programs. Be aware that some filters operate a ‘whitelisting’ system – in other words, you have to actively mark an email address as ‘not spam’ or messages will go straight into a folder entitled ‘Spam’ or ‘Junk’.

I have seen people overlook important emails because of this, although they could still retrieve them from the junk folder. Be sure to mark known email addresses as ‘not spam’ from the outset!

Remember that if an account becomes overwhelmed with spam, despite all these measures, you can always delete it.


Andrew Stucken

Andrew Stucken

Andrew cut his journalistic teeth with the local press, and has since moved on to writing for major national websites specialising in technology and money-saving. He has also written for The Times and other national newspapers.