Unwanted email is something most people have to deal with since it has become a prevalent means of communication. Unlike traditional "snail" mail which takes some effort to assemble and send, firing out electronic messages is easy, cheap and convenient. Enter spammers.

If you are a regular Internet user chances are you've experienced a scenario like the following:

You eagerly fire up your computer or mobile device, grab your morning coffee and pull up a chair to check your inbox. As your machine boots up you wonder if your sister sent those new baby pictures you've been dying to see.  You open up your browser and login to your email account and you've got mail - tons of it!

That anticipation you'd had just a minute ago quickly wanes as you scroll through the endless messages in your inbox congratulating you that you've won a million dollars or earned free gift cards. Sandwiched in between are numerous sex-related offers and ads on how you can get discounted Viagra. Then there is that awkwardly worded message from that nice gentleman in another country who is desperately pleading for your help to claim an inflated bank account that he's having difficulty accessing, and only you kind person are the only person who can help him.

Credit: tesatool0/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Most everyone has experienced the above situation with their inbox loaded with unwanted spam messages. It can be frustrating because it is time consuming and costly because it uses your resources. How do you make these annoying emails stop? While there are no 100 percent guarantees, there are several techniques you can try that will effectively reduce the number of these unwanted emails.

Use Email Controls

Pretty much all email clients have some sort of option where you can block the offending email address, domains or even filter words (like the aforementioned Viagra) from entering your mailbox. This empowers you to either automatically toss those pesky messages you don't want and allow the ones through that you do want to receive.

Unfortunately, some of those dreaded emails may slip through the filter, but by using one it should help to notably decrease volume. Many free email services, such as Yahoo and Google, automatically filter your spam. You always have the option of checking your "junk" email folder in case an email erroneously gets labeled as spam. To avoid the “good” emails from ending up in spam, be sure to add people and organizations you do want mail from into your contact list.

Inbox folders.Spam
Credit: Luis Penados via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Fortunately, most email services have good filters to reroute junk email to a spam folder. Unfortunately, the number of spam emails are annoying.

Invest in Anti-Spam Software

If email controls don't do the trick, there is software that you can purchase to help rid of all the spam. There are also many free (or at least free to try) applications too. Many anti-virus applications also are bundled with a spam filter that you can customize to your liking at a level that helps reduce unwanted mail.

Choose an Unusual Email Address

Many spammers use automated programs to randomly search for email addresses and try to guess names in hopes of getting someone to open their spam. It is a common occurrence to see you've received an email addressed to you and 30 others with a similar name. Others do "dictionary harvesting" by sending out emails to many common words people might use for personal or business ("info" "admin", "sales" etc.). Picking a unique name decreases the odds your name will be randomly guessed. Either way, it can’t hurt if you can find one that is unique and also meets your needs.

Keep Your Email Private

If you list your email on various web sites, sometimes spammers scan and harvest email addresses to target their junk email to. Or they sell the lists. When you display your email for public viewing, there is a higher probability you'll be included on the list to receive their next "great deal". If you want to share your email online or on your website, set up a separate account not connected to your personal, primary or work email addresses.

Only Give Your Email to Reputable Vendors

If you make a lot of purchases online you'll have to provide your email address to these companies, however make sure you read their privacy policies to see exactly who they share information with before you buy. Read the policy carefully and opt-out anywhere you can when they ask about sending you marketing promotions. Or, here too is another time when a secondary "throwaway" email address is helpful to set up.

Often these lists are sold to other companies who are more than happy to send you lots of unsolicited email. Keep in mind, the company you do trust may also eventually merge, sell or otherwise share data you give them. While you may originally start off getting legitimate electronic mail, as information is shuffled around that could change.

You've Got Spam
Credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Other Things You Can Do

Good practices when managing your digital mailbox can also help reduce a lot of the spam and other junk offers you receive.

  • Don't respond to unsolicited email. This only confirms to the spammer the address is an active and working one.
  • If you receive an odd email from a company you haven't done business with that gives you the option to “unsubscribe” don’t do it – scammers often use this technique to try to validate email addresses.
  • Don’t sign up with websites that promise to get your name taken off spam lists. Some are legitimate but, according to Yahoo!, most are “address collectors used by spammers." 1

Due to the ability to cheaply distribute messages, spammers have jumped on the opportunity to send out tons of unwanted email at little to no cost to them. Even if a small percentage of recipients click, it's a pretty lucrative for the spammers. According to a study conducted by UC San Diego (courtesy StatisticBrain), a "large enough spam bot mailer" can net approximately $7,000. 2 Consider that is just the small percentage of people who actually do click.

Unwanted email is a pain, no doubt about it.  Aside from the fact that its time consuming to wade through, many spam emails contain viruses, trojans and spyware. By using techniques such as the ones listed above you can significantly reduce spam in your inbox and lower your chances of getting infected by malware. It will also save you the aggravation of trying to find the email you actually do want to read.

While you will probably never be able to eliminate junk mail completely, if you can reduce at least a good portion of it, it'll make your life easier and sorting through your inbox much more pleasant.