This Email Tastes Like Spam

One of the issues we face with the glut of incoming email is trying to determine if an email we get is legitimate or just junk or spam. There are some easy ways to determine if an email you received is actually for you or just someone trying to get you to click on a link. This post will help you determine the difference between your real and junk messages and protect you from potential harm to both your computer and your identity.

What is spam?

Basically spam is email you did not ask for, that was sent in bulk, or sent from a someone you do not know. Newsletters you did sign up for, an email from a college friend or colleague, and messages from people trying to contact you personally are, of course, not spam. A newsletter somebody signed you up for to annoy you is not spam but a different kind of email abuse. An email sent to you in bulk by an unknown sender that you do in fact welcome and find useful may not be spam either. Basically, every email you asked for is not spam but not every email you did not ask for is spam.

How does it work?

You probably ask yourself how does this possibly work? Someone isn’t crazy enough to actually click on those links in a spam message, are they? Spam works because it is so cheap to send. Using means ranging from spam-friendly ISPs to ordinary people’s computers turned spam-machines, spammers can send their junk inexpensively. At the same time, the risk of getting caught is substantial and involves dear costs — apparently not enough to offset the profitability of sending spam. Spam has recently been measured to be around one in 12,000,000 for pharmaceutical spam and one in 200,000 for infection sites that have been infected by spam sending “bots”. After 26 days, and almost 350 million e-mail messages, only 28 sales resulted.

How did the spammer get my email address?

It doesn’t take much for someone let alone a spammer to get a hold of your email address.  Spammers love large email companies like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo.  There are millions of addresses to send emails to hoping someone actually clicks on a link in the email starting the chain of events that leads to more spam being sent to you.  A spammer will find an internet address, like somewhere on the internet, and begin trying every combination common names to see if an address is real.  They can do this really fast. A spammer can send out millions of messages a day at a very low cost hoping to make a few bucks out of it, so trying every combination of your name is pretty easy. Once they get a hit, more spam will always come your way.

So how can I tell if it is a real message or not?

It’s probably spam if you receive an email from someone:

  • you do not know or have never heard of.
  • has poor spelling or words that do not go together at all.
  • a message from an address or person you do know but:
    • it is formatted strangely
    • the spelling or context is totally wrong
    • maybe it includes a strange link
Many spammers come from other countries, so generally their English or spelling is poor since they use computers to write millions of these messages. When spammers find a real address, one that does not produce a bounce back, they can actually use that email address to send to other known addresses as that person. This makes it seem like you are receiving a legit email from someone you may actually know. So you need to scan the email for the tell tale signs of a potential spam message.

So what’s phishing?

Some spammers send fraudulent mass-messages designed to collect personal information, called ‘spoofing’ or ‘password phishing.’ These messages are worse than regular spam as they are trying to actually have you supply personal information such as passwords, credit card info, or social security numbers. You should always be wary of any message that asks for your personal information, or messages that refer you to a webpage asking for personal information. One thing to be sure of: Google, Gmail, or banks will never ask you to provide this information in an email; if the message asking for it claims to be from them, don’t believe it.

Looks like Gmail missed a spam message, what should I do?

First, if it includes a link, DO NOT CLICK IT! You can be sent to a website that can infect your computer and cause it to run slower, prevent you from using the internet, or use your computer to send spam to others. You can delete it, but better would be to report the message as spam to Gmail and not the FCIT Department.  There isn’t anything we can actually do to keep it from your inbox so telling us will not make the spam go away.
To report and remove spam from your inbox:
  1. Select the message you’d like to report.
  2. Click the spam button in the toolbar above your message list.
    (If you have the message open, you can also report it as spam by using the same button.)

To remove spam forever:

  1. Click the Spam link along the left side of any Gmail page. (If you don’t see Spam along the left side of your Gmail page, click the More drop-down menu at the bottom of your labels list.)
  2. Select the messages you’d like to delete and click Delete forever.
  3. Or delete everything by clicking Delete all spam messages now.

The more spam you mark, the better Gmail will get at weeding out those annoying messages. If you or we mark a good message as spam, select the message and click Not Spam at the top of the message. If you marked it as spam, you can also immediately click Undo afterwards to recover the message.


If you find that some senders’ messages are consistently being mislabeled as spam, you can prevent this by:

  • Adding their email addresses to your Contacts list. Gmail will deliver messages from members of your Contacts list to your inbox, unless we know with high confidence that they are spam.
    • Some messages sent from contacts which are very clearly spam can be sent directly to your Spam label. More importantly, in some cases messages from contacts will not be sent to Spam but will be marked with a red warning banner if the content is suspicious – for example, your friend’s or contact’s account has been compromised and used to send phishing messages.
  • Creating a filter so the messages are never sent to Spam.