Many of us receive dozens of emails per day, and business users tend to receive many more. However, according to Statista.com, almost 57% of all email messages sent in 2017 were classed as spam. On top of that are countless more that fall into something of a grey area, whereby the messages might not legally be considered spam, but are nonetheless unwanted by their recipients.
With over a billion users, Gmail is the most popular free, web-based email service in the world. With Google's cutting-edge technology behind it, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the service also has some of the best spam filters in the industry. At the same time, however, there's no such thing as a completely fool-proof system, and there will always be some unwanted emails that make it past the filters. Having said that, Gmail's spam filters are constantly evolving to tackle new threats. Users taking steps to report offending emails and block unwanted senders is an important part of this process.
Google's spam management system should automatically take care of most spam so that you never even have to deal with it. However, there are other situations where you might receive unwanted messages, including spam emails that are clever enough to make it past the filters. Knowing how to properly filter and block such emails is important for protecting yourself online and helping Google constantly improve upon their spam filtering techniques.
Why Do People Receive Unwanted Messages?
There's no such thing as an email account that remains completely unaffected by spam and other unwanted email. No matter how careful you are, some spammers will always be able to get hold of your email address. Combating spam and the multitude of security threats that come with it requires a proactive approach, and that starts with understanding how spammers get hold of your address in the first place.
Another common way for spammers to obtain email addresses is to use software to scrape plain-text addresses from websites and other online platforms. That's why you should always mask your email address whenever you need to publicize it, preferably by presenting it in the form of a picture instead. Spammers also scrape email addresses by carrying out WHOIS record searches for registered web addresses. However, people with their own websites can hide their real email addresses from the public by paying extra for domain privacy, which is an optional service provided by many domain name registrars.
Of course, not all unwanted emails are spam, and it doesn't help anyone if you flag legitimate emails as spam when they're really not. Unwanted messages might, for example, come from former employers or organizations you previously did business with. Most of the time, your email address will remain on mailing lists unless you take a moment to unsubscribe using the link provided. Note that any legitimate email will always provide an unsubscribe link, since it is a legal requirement to do so.
How to Block Specific Senders Using Gmail
As we've already seen, unwanted emails come in many different forms for many different reasons. While some might not be legally defined as advertising spam, others may be every bit as harmful, if not more so. For example, cyberbullying threats and phishing scams often arrive in inboxes and, many times, they're not obvious enough to be caught out by the spam filters. Unsurprisingly, these emails are among the most harmful and need to be dealt with utmost care.
Blocking a specific sender is strongly advisable if ever a suspicious email makes it into your inbox, rather than being filtered into the spam folder. By blocking the sender, you will never receive any email from that address again. To block a sender, all you need to do is open the email, click the arrow in the top-right and click 'Block' followed by the sender's name. This will automatically flag all future emails from the sender as spam. However, you can unblock the sender at any time by visiting the Gmail settings page.
Gmail also provides advanced filtering tools that allow users to configure their own filters based on subject lines and specific words and phrases detected in incoming emails. Aside from being useful for managing spam, these features are also great for organizing your email and making sure that all messages go to the right folder. To set up filters in Gmail, click on the cog icon in the top-right of your account page and click 'Settings', followed by the Filters and Blocked Addresses tab. Here you can set up new filters and have emails from specific senders or those that contain certain words or phrases automatically flagged as spam or sent to another folder.
How to Unsubscribe from Mailing Lists
As per the CAN-SPAM act of 2003 in the US and similar legislation in many other countries, all promotional emails must contain a working unsubscribe link. Sometimes, however, it can be time-consuming to find messages that are part of a subscription program. A quick way to find which mailing lists you're subscribed to is to use the Gmail search feature, simply by typing 'unsubscribe' into the search box.
If you wish to unsubscribe from a mailing list, simply click the relevant link at the bottom of the email. Gmail will also attempt to unsubscribe you from mailing lists whenever you flag a promotional email as spam, regardless of whether it comes from a legitimate sender. Additionally, Gmail provides an Unsubscribe link of its own beside the name and address of the sender. Many people will find it quicker and easier to use this link instead of having to scroll down to the bottom of the page.
How to Report Spam and Phishing Emails
The ability to report spam and phishing emails is crucial to Gmail's entire anti-spam and cybersecurity program. Google uses this information to continuously improve its spam filters and automatically flag potentially dangerous emails. By reporting, rather than just blocking or deleting, such emails, you'll be doing Google, yourself and the whole Gmail user base a favor.
Reporting spam or phishing attempts to Google also has immediate benefits for your account, such as automatically flagging all future messages from those senders so that they never make it into your inbox. For the benefit of the entire community, all spam reports will be automatically fed into Google's cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms to help improve future spam filtering methods. In the case of phishing scam reports, Google will manually review flagged emails and take the necessary action, which usually involves blacklisting the sender and keeping their emails out of the system entirely.
The ability to report spam email is also valuable for businesses wanting to keep a close eye on the email statistics. For example, if there's an unusually large influx of spam reports in a single day, it might indicate that a spammer is taking advantage of a recently discovered exploit in the system. Ultimately, however, reporting spam is something that you should always take the time to do for the sake of millions of other individuals and businesses that use Gmail every day.
It only takes a moment to flag an incoming email as spam in Gmail. Simply click on the arrow in the top-right, and click 'Report Spam'. If, however, you suspect the message to be a phishing attempt, be sure to click 'Report Phishing' instead. Make sure you choose the most appropriate option, since doing so will help protect your account and others in the future.
Phishing scams are, of course, much more serious than normal spam emails. While spam largely concerns promotional emails that you're not interested in and never subscribed to, phishing scams attempt to dupe you into taking a desired action by building trust. While many are obvious, characterized by things like poor English or promises of lofty rewards, others are targeted, personalized and extremely clever. However, no legitimate company will ever ask for personal, login or financial information over email, so most phishing attempts are easy to pick out on this basis alone, even if spam filter software can't tell the difference.
Whether you're a small business owner or any regular email user, you shouldn't have to be wasting your time dealing with spam emails. Fortunately, Gmail provides the features you need take a proactive approach to handling unwanted emails. By taking some extra steps to enable custom filters and block unwanted senders, your inbox will be better organized and your account less susceptible to abuse.