When Is It Safe to “Opt Out” of Spam?

If you haven’t read the previous pages on not replying to spam, and not using their “Removal” instructions since that is not only ineffective, but could result in more spam, then be sure to do so.

But there are some cases when it’s effective. Here’s how to know when it is.

Of course, why should you have to beg them to stop sending mail you didn’t ask for? But if you can’t stand it anymore, the best way to tell if they’ll honor your request is:

  1. Does the spam come from a real address? (Like list@companyname.com, not like 23r8g4@yahoo.com)
  2. Does it come from the same address each time?
  3. Are the opt-out instructions the same every time?

If the answer to #1 is yes, and either #2 or #3 is yes, it’s probably safe to follow the directions to opt out. After all, it’s quite possible you did request the mail, and simply forgot about it.

Of course, if you did sign up for the mailing, it’s safe to opt out by following their instructions. If they’re truly legitimate, using their procedure will work immediately, the first time you use it. If you follow their instructions properly and still get the mail, then it’s certainly legitimate to click the “This is Spam” button.

Should You File a Complaint?

No! I do not think complaining helps. Spam victims have complained a lot, and for a long time, but the complaints spam hasn’t been reduced, it has increased. Worse, because spammers are pretty good at hiding their tracks and using fake addresses (or, much worse, real addresses belonging to innocent bystanders), it’s sometimes very difficult to track down the real culprit. There’s only one thing worse than spam: accusing the wrong person of doing it! In many areas, spam is a crime, so you’re potentially accusing an innocent person of committing a crime. Are you sure you have the right person? Are you sure you won’t be sued for slander if you get the wrong person?

There are services that help you complain. I have tried some of them, but found I got very few positive responses from the people I complained to. They do a pretty good job of tracking the origin of the spam if you feed them the full routing headers. However, I got far more responses from spammer ISPs when I sent a complaint manually. Many ISPs throw out automated complaints without looking at them, in part because most of them hide your identity — few ISPs will take action on anonymous complaints, nor should they. But even manually written complaints rarely helped: I was wasting my time. I gave up and used filters to get rid of most of it (more on that in a couple of minutes).

Important! If you did ask for the mail (such as signing up for an e-mail newsletter), do not report the mailer as a spammer when you decide you don’t want it anymore! By signing up for the mail, you made it your responsibility to follow their directions for leaving the mailing list. Reporting a legitimate mailer as a spammer is an obscene abuse of their good names. Such reports also send a very clear message, which is people who complain about spam are clueless idiots who don’t know the difference between mail they asked for and spam, which just encourages ISPs to give up and not do anything about any spam reports. Save your clicks on the “Spam” button for real spam.

The bottom line: it’s very difficult to stop this kind of junk e-mail advertising, but if we all refuse to do business with spammers, we can make a difference in the long run. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal government stepped into spam regulation. But like many laws, it didn’t really address the core problem.

Next Topic: Why the Federal CAN-SPAM Law Didn’t Help