Whether it’s in the form of calls, emails, or texts, all types of spam only serves to frustrate technology users. It seems unavoidable; companies you don't even know reach out with messages about products and services you don't want. These unsolicited messages range from annoying to downright harmful, and while it’s difficult to block out all of it, it can help to understand spam and how to deal with it quickly.
In this article, gain an understanding of computer spam and why it's harmful, the various types of spam you may encounter, and how to stop it.
What is spam?
In this article, we're not talking about the Spam brand ham substitute by Hormel Foods. The term "computer spam" also serves as a blanket term for unsolicited commercial messages sent to a number of recipients. It can occur via email, text, calls, mail, social media message, or any other form of communication.
These messages are problematic—and annoying to receive—because the sheer number of unwanted messages sent to a single inbox blocks out the messages a recipient does want. In general, any message a user didn’t ask for could be considered spam of some kind. These messages are typically sent in bulk by spammers hoping to get a response from a few people. They're an inconvenience, but to most people, they're just messages taking up space in an inbox.
However, there’s a different, malicious side to computer spam too. Email phishing commonly appears in inboxes as messages asking for users to update their account information or click a link to perform some action. These phishing emails are dangerous and an attempt to spread malware to a person’s computer.
Phishing happens in the form of texts and phone calls too, albeit these forms are less common. Remember as you sort through your messages not to entertain any unsolicited messages or phishing messages.
What is its purpose?
Spam emails tend to be business-oriented; spammers try to market or sell questionable items, make misleading claims, and fool people. However, they can also be personal messages that appear to come from someone you know or someone that needs help.
Ultimately, its purpose is to make a profit - whether it be by getting users to purchase suspicious, unsolicited products, or by convincing them to click a link and give their information. These mass emails aren't just motivated by marketing or the desire to advertise a product. Most types of spammers intend to get something from the victims by whatever means necessary.
Why is spam harmful?
Nearly 85% of all emails are spam. Though it may seem harmless in some cases, these messages can be incredibly damaging to an individual or an organization. As mentioned above, the primary purpose of spam is to garner a profit.
Furthermore, these messages with repetitive content fill users' mailboxes. The system uses unused space on servers, unused memory, and storage to save these irrelevant messages. This slows down computers and devices.
Spamming can also impact the productivity of workers, as it disrupts their inboxes with messages they don't need. This can prevent them from receiving messages that are important to projects or to the company.
In addition, the messages can be outright malicious; many types of spam messages contain clickable links or prompts to perform actions that put the user at risk. In some cases, if you click the link in the message, you'll automatically download malicious software or viruses. These viruses sometimes lay dormant in your computer for days, weeks, or months before you realize it, causing serious harm to your device and your personal data.
Types of spam
Spam serves as a catchall term for any annoying messages sent in mass amounts to users in an attempt to turn a profit. However, there are several different types of spam. Some of the most popular are:
- Email spam
- Phone call spam
- Text spam
- Social media spam
- Website or blog spam
These types of spam attacks can come in different forms:
- Comment spam, where your account or site is flooded with linked comments or comments that otherwise aren't relevant
- Trackback spam or mention spam, where you receive notices that your site has been linked to or you've been mentioned. Typically, this either isn't the case, or you have been mentioned or linked but it's to an irrelevant post or site repeatedly
- Advertising spam, which comes in the form of messages or phone calls for a product repeatedly
Note the difference between scams and computer spam. Though sometimes scams involve unsolicited messaging, scams are malicious with the intent to trick an individual. Computer spam, on the other hand, often attempts to simply overwhelm a user or confuse them with the sheer volume of messages sent.
How to stop spam
There are a couple different ways to stop unsolicited bulk email messages from filling up your inbox. If you receive an unwanted email from a business or company, either delete it or mark it as spam. Marking it as such makes your email log it as such and future emails from the same email address won’t show up in your inbox. If you decide to just delete the message instead, make sure you do so without opening it or clicking any links.
Although your email may have its own filter to detect computer spam, you can double up with a third-party filter for extra protection. Companies like SpamTitan offer spam filters that work with most emails. These filters not only help clear out the annoying messages that clog your inbox, but they also help prevent against phishing attacks.
If you find that marketing emails from companies and businesses cause the most problems for you, creating a second email through Gmail or another free avenue to use exclusively for company ads and coupons can help significantly. All your junk email will go to that address instead of your actual email, and you can sort through the mail at your leisure - or delete it all entirely.
If you can’t stop all your unsolicited email, you can also use tools like this email analyzer. It works to locate the IP address of the sender. Knowing the IP address helps in cases of malicious emails that can’t be tracked.
Recipients can handle spam calls on a case-by-case basis. However, the best way to block spam calls is by putting the phone number on the national Do Not Call registry. This will help block out the majority of calls.
For those that slip through, recipients can report them after they’ve been on the registry for thirty-one days. If you find that you only receive calls from certain numbers, blocking those specific numbers will keep your spam to a minimum.
Contact your phone company and inquire about any provided spam-blocking tools or apps. In general, don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, even if the area code is nearby. A local area code doesn’t mean the caller is local. If you do answer a spam call, don’t speak to the caller or offer any personal information.
In general, it's a good idea to silence unknown callers; if the message is important, such as from a doctor's office, they'll leave a message. You'll save yourself the trouble of having to deal with unsolicited calls, fraud, and a host of other issues. Keep in mind that all phones, whether it be an Android phone or an Apple device, have the ability to block calls if you want to prevent a number from calling for any reason.
Spam text messages can be more difficult to block on a general level. However, you can block the numbers sending these texts on your phone. You will no longer receive texts from that specific number. You can also forward the numbers to 7726, which reports the number to your wireless carrier.
On iPhone and Android, you can also block spam automatically with an anti-spam filter. iPhone users can scroll to “Messages” in Settings and toggle on “Filter Unknown Senders.” It filters all messages sent from people outside your contact list into the “Unknown Senders” tab.
Android users can open the Messaging app and select the three dots at the top right of the screen. Click “Settings” and “Spam Protection,” and scroll down to activate “Enable Spam Protection.” If you have a different phone, there’s always third party apps that can filter unwanted content. Try contacting your wireless carrier to see if they provide any anti-spam tools for messages.
Social media isn't the first thing most people think of when they hear about spam. Nevertheless, it's present on apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter - both the versions from the App Store and website versions. Some users will comment repeatedly on another users' posts, causing annoyance regardless of how innocent the messages are.
Other times, spammers will use direct or instant messaging to contact users with unrelated, impersonal messages. Either way, if you find yourself in this situation, your best course of action is making your own account private and then blocking the offending users.
Frequently asked questions
Why do I get spammed?
There's no personal reason why you're receiving computer spam. Spammers send the messages en masse to as many recipients as they can contact at once. The contents of the message may vary based on what information is available about you.
For example, if you've expressed interest in certain Facebook products, you may receive unsolicited advertisements from those companies. Advertisers track your interests and use that information to reach out in targeted ways. But in general, all types of spam are simply a part of being online. Unfortunately, some websites also sell user information to make a profit, meaning you may be receiving these messages from an unknown company because another company or site you interacted with sold your information.
What is spamming vs. phishing?
The main difference between spamming and phishing is intent. While spam is annoying, in most cases - though not all - it's not directly intended to do harm. Phishing, however, is almost always malicious.
Phishing attacks are more targeted, as they typically are disguised as companies that users know and trust. While spammers want to make a profit, phishers typically aim to commit fraud, identity theft, or corporate spying.
Is it better to block or delete spam messages?
In general, it's best to simply delete these messages without interacting with them. Because you don't know whether the links or items contained in the email are secure, you don't want to click around and accidentally hit a malicious link. Furthermore, interacting with the messages indicates that your email address is active, which could prompt further unsolicited messages from other spammers.