How Spammers and Scammers Get Your Email Address

How scammers get your email

Image courtesy of and Chanpipat

I’m not really quite sure how “Spam” got its name. Sure there’s the meat, which we’ve all enjoyed over the years…some more than others. But Spam in the online world? Don’t know where it came from.

“Stupid People Accessing Mail”…how’s that for an acronym?

If you’re not familiar with the term, “spam” is just unsolicited email. You’ve probably received correspondence from random people to lose weight, save money on your mortgage, or even enlarge certain parts of your anatomy.

And, you may be wondering how on earth these people found your email address to begin with. There are a couple different ways, but it always begins with you giving out your email address. Which, frankly, is necessary, if you want people to email you. And even if you never give out your address, people find you.

Here’s how:

  1. When you register for your email address, check with your provider to see what their marketing policy is. Make sure that you’re not unwittingly allowing random people to email you. Most free accounts, like Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail, have marketing preferences which you can change at any time. Keep in mind though, that once your email is out there, it’s pretty much out there.
  2. You know those friends you have that send you lists of “101 Beautiful Things about Kittens?” You know how they list ALL of the recipient’s emails in the “to” field? Well, they are willingly sending everyone they know your address. And then those people can send it to everyone they know, and so on and so on. If you are one of these people who feels the need to share jokes, and tidbits of joy, keep in mind that you are welcoming spam into your friend’s lives. You can prevent this by putting everyone’s emails in the “BCC” field. This means, “Blind Carbon Copy” and no one will see anyone else’s address. Simple, isn’t it?
  3. When you purchase items online, you are giving permission to that company to continue contacting you, sometimes they’ll ask permission to let their “partners” contact you with deals and updates on complimentary products and services you might find useful. Make sure you read through their privacy statement and agree with it before giving out your email.
  4. If you receive actual spam in your email, meaning, you are 100% certain you never requested to be on their mailing list, DO NOT CONTACT THE COMPANY AND ASKED TO BE REMOVED. For those “illegitimate” sorts, this shows them that it’s a valid email, and they’ll just sell your information all over again. The best thing to do is just block their website or email from your account. Follow the directions in your email program to learn how. With legitimate companies, all you have to do is click the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of their email. Legitimate companies will abide by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and display their name, address and how to unsubscribe from their mailings at the bottom of each email. Illegitimate companies will make you contact them directly. Just don’t.
  5. Click on the “report spam” button in your email only if you’re certain that you never signed up for that mailing list. When you click that button, your email provider will log that IP address as spam, and start sending any messages from that IP address to your spam folder, or block it completely. Business who send out email that gets marked as spam DO get penalized for it. And if enough of their mailings are classified as spam they may not be able to send out email through their mailing provider. So, it’s very important that you use the “report spam” button judiciously. Otherwise, you could be hurting a legitimate business trying to contact their customers.
  6. Have you ever posted in a forum or message board requesting more information from somebody? Have you ever given out your email address in a public space like Craigslist? That will unleash the Spam Devils upon you! While online communities are common and mostly peaceful, keep in mind that for every one nice person you meet, there are literally thousands of other just reading, and not posting. You don’t know who is looking at your information, so never give out your email, or other personally identifiable information online. In addition, spammers will send out bots and spiders (computer scraping programs) to scour the Internet (and high traffic sites like Craigslist) and find personal information to put into a database. They then sell this information or use it to send spammy email and phishing schemes. Remember, even if you post your info on one site, it doesn’t necessarily stay there!
  7. The best way to prevent from getting Spam, is to set up separate email accounts. Give one to your family and friends, (and educate those who like to send the stories and jokes to use BCC) and use the other for everything else. This “junk” email, so to speak, should be used for every message board you register with, every product you buy online, everything that you do with strangers. You’ll see how quickly one mailbox will fills, while the other remains quite clean!

 Think about all the extra money you could make by being a mystery shopper, starting your own business, or working from home for a legitimate company.  Take control of your income and check out our LEARN page for a list of classes, books, and more!

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Michael Fildey
Michael Fildey

There are many spammers and scammers that obtain your email address like this and through other ways as well. If you often face trouble dealing with the cluster of unwanted emails in your inbox, you should try using a reputable email verification API, which will clean up your inbox by discarding all emails sent by unverified accounts.