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Handling Suspicious Email Messages and Spam

The two best ways to reduce the amount of unwanted email in your inbox is to report spam messages and unsubscribe from mailing lists you are not interested in. Gmail will try to automatically unsubscribe you from messages you mark as spam.

The open nature of the global email system is a double-edged sword. By nature it allows any person or company to communicate with anyone else. The drawback is that senders do not always have good intentions. Even if the message appears to be from someone you trust, you should always question the sender's intentions.

Is this email actually from who it says it is?

Malicious messages can come from anyone. It's very common for an attacker to hijack an account, and then use that account to send harmful messages to all of the contacts. Even if a message is from someone you know, be on alert if it seems unusual.

  • Check the From address on the email. Messages from your bank should probably come from [email protected], and not [email protected] or [email protected].
  • Consider the body of the message. If you have communicated with this person before, is their grammar unusual? Is the formatting of the message odd? Is their spelling particularly poor? Are they asking you to do something unusual?

Is this message trying to get me to do something dangerous?

Emails which attempt to persuade you to do something dangerous often use language which adds urgency so that you are more likely to suspend your suspicion and perform the action anyways. Vague messages which implore you to open some link or attachment are frequently malicious. Examples of dangerous actions are:

  • Providing usernames or passwords — A common attack is to provide a link which looks like the login page to your email provider or other service. The attacker saves any password you submit, and uses it to hijack your account.
  • Granting Application Access — Some attacks may link directly to an account page which asks for permission to access your account. If you are not expecting to see an account access screen, the safest thing to do is close your browser window/tab.
  • Transferring/receiving money — There are many scams which encourage you to receive a sum of money and forward it to someone else. Through various methods, you'll end up losing all of the money to the scammer.
  • Visiting malicious links — Malicious links may look like links to trusted websites, or be random webpages on the internet. If you aren't sure if a link is safe, err on the side of caution and do not open it.
  • Opening attachments — Attackers may send attachments which can exploit vulnerabilities in software to harm your computer or hijack your accounts. Word documents, PDFs, and other Office documents are common vectors of exploitation.

Naturally, if you never trusted any message or opened any attachment, email would not be very useful. Use your best judgement and if you feel a message is unsafe, you may want to report it as a phishing or spam. Reporting spam and phishing emails is good practice, because you will help Gmail reduce the amount of unwanted messages you receive. If a message is probably safe, but you do not want to receive any more message like it you may be able to unsubscribe from marketing messages from that sender.

If ever you are not sure if a message is malicious or not, send the message with headers to

How to report a message as spam in Gmail

A spam email is generally an unsolicited marketing message. Spam may or may not be malicious. It is dangerous to open any links or attachments in spam messages unless you are quite sure the message is safe. When you report a message as spam, the message will be submitted to the Gmail team for analysis and the message will be moved to your spam folder. By reporting spam, you help Google improve their spam filtering technology for everyone and you can reduce the amount of junk mail in your inbox.

  1. Select the message you'd like to report.
  2. Click the spam button in the toolbar above your message list.
    1. (If you have the message open, you can also report it as spam by using the same button.)

Unsubscribing from marketing messages

Often marketing messages will give you the option of unsubscribing from their list. If the “spam” message is from a company you've previously dealt with, you may want to remove yourself from their mailing list by unsubscribing. According to the CAN-SPAM Act, email marketers are required to provide you with an option to unsubscribe from their messages. You should apply this method only to messages in your inbox from companies you recognize. Messages in your spam folder are more likely to contain malicious links.

It is always safest to mark messages as spam. Especially if:

  • You have never dealt with the company directly.
  • You cannot find a way to unsubscribe.
  • You unsubscribe from a company's mailings and continue to receive them.

Read the message and search for an unsubscribe or update subscription link—usually at the bottom of the mail. Visiting that link will allow you to opt out of future mailings from that company.

How to report a phishing email in Gmail

A phishing email is a malicious message that attempts to convince a user to divulge sensitive information. By reporting phishing messages to Gmail you help them improve their filtering so that fewer people receive malicious messages. When you report a message as phishing, it will be removed from your inbox and placed in your spam folder.

  1. Open the Gmail message.
  2. Click the down arrow next to Reply, at the top right of the message pane.
  3. Click Report Phishing to send a copy of the message to the Gmail Team.
handling_suspicious_email_messages_and_spam.txt · Last modified: 2021/12/01 14:35 by abrashear