Of all the spam email you get, messages from mailing lists or newsletters would defenitely top the list.

Email spam can be traced back almost to the start of the internet age. In the old days, the only way to clean up was to mark such messages as spam so your email service would weed out similar emails in future.

Unsubscribe button spam

Email service providers constantly monitor email ids being marked as spam by users to add to their blacklist. But with the internet growing, the challenge to differentiate legitimate mailers from the fraud ones based on user spam filtering grew bigger. And along came "Unsubscribe" buttons. They had many advantages-

  • A newsletter with an "Unsubscribe" button gives a certain degree of legitimacy to the mailer.
  • With more people using the "Unsubscribe" option instead of marking a newsletter as "Spam", chances of email services downgrading mailing lists or newsletter email ids are much lesser.
  • Marketing people get a better insight on who is really reading their newsletters.

But be aware that not all "Unsubscribe" buttons fall in the "Gentleman" category. Almost all good unsubscribe buttons will be links taking you to a page saying - "You have been unsubscribed". But there are some other types too which you need to be careful about-

Unsubscribe link asking for your email id.

Here, clicking on the unsubscribe button will take you to a page which will ask for your email id to unsubscribe. The million dollar question you should ask yourself is - how the hell did they send you an email if they don't know your email id already?

This is how it works - Most fraud emails originate from hacked computers or servers. Once in, the hacker uses programs that will snoop for email ids in the machine and send mass emails using these ids. And once you unsubscribe by giving your email id in the unsubscribe form, they immediately know you are a genuine person and more real spam will follow.

Phishing using unsubscribe link.

This is a more dangerous type of spam. Click the unsubscribe link and you will be greeted with a page saying they are sorry to loose you .. blah blah blah... Please login with your emailid/password to get unsubscribed.

A lot of us use the same emailid/password as a common credential to register in web sites. And by habit, the first instinct would be to try that emailid/password without thinking. The site would just say "You have been unsubscribed" for almost any credentials you give. But behind the scenes, they now have an emailid/password combination which you have used in a lot of different sites and needless to say - lots of surprises are sure to follow!!

The smart way-

Here are some things to keep in mind while unsubscribing from any mailing list.

  1. If clicking the unsubscribe button takes you to a page asking for credentials of any sort, it is always better to mark them as spam.
  2. Check the unsubscribe link's domain name. If it doesn't match the senders domain, it is most likely Spam. For instance, if you get a mail from abcservices.com and the unsubscribe link is something like-
    it's mostly legitimate. But if the unsubscribe link looks like
    that's not a good sign. Legitimate marketers spend lots of money to craft their ads and message and wouldn't host them on a free domain on a Russian server.
  3. Read the "From" address carefully. Don't just rely on the name in the "From" field, but read the actual email address too. If you don't find them to match, you can wisely skip the "Unsubscribe" button. For instance, this would be an excellent candidate for spam - PayPal<info@paypaypal.com>
  4. When in doubt of any kind, always use the "Spam" route. It is always the safest way.

And finally, here's an interesting video showing some SPAM statistics -