Spam emails are an unfortunate fact of modern life (like confusing emoji and fake news and Wi-Fi thieves.) You can choose a good email platform to keep them out of sight and out of mind. Or you can take a more active approach to fighting spam messages, and have a little bit of fun in the process — just as some people do with internet providers that don’t live up to their promises.
The next time you get a message promising you pills without a prescription, fast weight loss, an opportunity to make an extra $10,000, or a wire transfer of millions, consider trying one of these techniques to fight spam emails or even get a little bit of revenge on the criminals who send them.
1. Take up “scambaiting” as a sport
Site 419 Eater advocates making a sport of “scambaiting,” which refers to going out of your way “to deliberately waste as much of the scammer’s time and resources for as long as possible.” The site explains, “The madder we get them, then the better we are doing our job!” It may take some time, but if you play along with a scammer’s game, you’ll be able to trick them into thinking that they can get you to part with your money. In reality, you’ll just be wasting their time and making them jump through hoops.
2. Waste the spammer’s time — without wasting yours
Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten reported a few years ago for The Next Web that he’d come up with the perfect solution for fighting spam emails that’s almost like “a semi-automated version of scambaiting site 419 Eater.” Van Zanten explains, “I would like someone to create a service so I can reply to anyone trying to sell me bullshit.” He recommends finding a way to “keep those spammers occupied for weeks filling out forms, faxing documents to non-existing fax numbers, and going from promising lead to promising lead until they go crazy and give up on the whole thing.” We’ll keep you posted if we find the kind of service Van Zanten is talking about.
3. Correspond with enough spammers to create a blog or write a book
Anyone can exchange a few emails with a spammer. But comedian James Veitch took things a step further. He’s sent thousands of emails to scammers, gradually collecting enough hilarious exchanges to populate an entire book. Veitch said in a TED Talk, “Crazy stuff happens when you start replying to scam emails. It’s really difficult, and I highly recommend we do it. I don’t think what I’m doing is mean. There are a lot of people who do mean things to scammers.” He explains, “All I’m doing is wasting their time. And I think any time they’re spending with me is time they’re not spending scamming vulnerable adults out of their savings, right?”
4. Revel in the strangeness of the messages spammers send
Even if you don’t want to entangle yourself in week-long email threads with spammers, you can still enjoy the strangeness of the messages they send. From messages promising an unexpected inheritance to those promoting male enhancement solutions, spam messages are notoriously weird. (A few years ago, for instance, many of them were opening with Harry Potter lines used completely out of context to fool spam-detecting software, Kotaku reports.) You can open spam emails without doing much harm (just don’t click on any links) if you need a laugh or material for an entertaining Facebook update.
5. Take revenge against spammers by reporting them
Spam emails are annoying, especially if you don’t have the time to derive any entertainment value from them. But you can get the satisfaction of reporting spam messages with a tool like SpamCop. You can report spammers to relevant internet service providers, and SpamCop can determine the origin of all of those unwanted messages. SpamCop notes that by reporting spam messages, “you have a positive impact on the problem,” since “reporting unsolicited email also helps feed spam filtering systems.”
6. Stay safe while taking revenge on spam
Fighting spam can be fun — as long as you stay safe while doing so. Christopher Boyd of MalwareBytes Lab suggests, at the very least, using a pseudonymous email address — one that’s not tied to your personal information, your social network accounts, or the domain registration for your website. And he advises that you shouldn’t engage with scammers unless you really know what you’re getting yourself into. He notes that “the last thing we need is lots of overenthusiastic people hurling themselves at professional criminals with little more than a vague sense of the lulz to keep them safe.”
7. Outsmart spammers
If you’ve decided that you’d prefer not to engage with the spammers who are emailing you, there are still some ways you can fight spam. If you’re creating a new email address, choose a complicated username instead of one that’s simple. Once you’ve decided that you don’t want to engage with a spammer, don’t even hit the “unsubscribe” button — since that will alert them to the fact that they’ve reached a legitimate, active account. Similarly, don’t click any links in a spam email. And don’t post your email address in plain text on the internet. Also, consider using an email address that’s not your primary account when you register on a website or with an app.