Unsolicited bulk emails are pretty annoying as they stack up in your spam folder, but for the most part they are pretty low on the spam email ladder. Each day hundreds of billions of email advertisements are sent, most selling miracle weight loss cures, male enhancement products, knock-off merchandise, online degree programs and prescription drugs.
Tip: In case it wasn't obvious, purchasing anything from these emails is almost assuredly a poor decision.
One of the hardest types of email spam to spot is phishing scam emails. These buggers are designed to look like official emails from financial institutions or big companies like eBay and PayPal, but actually direct victims to equally official looking scam sites. This tricks people into volunteering their usernames and passwords, which are then used by the site owners, the scammers, to compromise the real accounts.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, always visit an official site, not whatever comes up when clicking a link in an email, and always check the URL before signing into any site.
Nigerian 419 Scams
If you have an email account, more than likely you've received a seemingly amazing offer out of the blue by some stranger from a faraway land. Someone claiming to be the agent for a long lost relative, a lottery service, an employer or even someone looking for love will offer a large sum of money, only asking for a small percentage in return for their time, insurance, shipping or other seemingly legit reason. The scammer then sends a fake check and asks for money to be wired back. Victims never receive the large sum from the check and are out the small fee, usually a few hundred or thousand dollars.
Tip: Plain and simple, if it appears too good to be true, most likely it is.
More of a technique used to make other email spam tactics seem more believable, many spammers will send messages which appear to originate from a different email address than they actually do. This spoofing technique makes it appear as though a fraudulent email actually came from a trusted source, company or organization. This builds the trust of the victim, making them more likely to take part in whichever scam is included in the message.
Tip: When in doubt, ask that person or company directly, offline, if they sent the message before handing over any personal information or money.
Trojan Horse Email
Considered ancient in the email spam history books, email worms are nasty little buggers which not only infect the victim computer but also sends itself to everyone in the victim's contact list. The most famous email worm was the ILOVEYOU bug which debuted in 2000. It was highly successful as who won't open an email from a loved one titled I love you? Once opened and downloaded, the script attached would damage the local computer and send itself out to everyone the victim knows.
Tip: If you receive an email with an attachment from someone who usually doesn't send such things, before opening or downloading anything, take a moment to disconnect and call or text them to confirm it's a legit attachment.
Technically, any unsolicited bulk messages sent indiscriminately are considered spam. This includes when legit websites and companies that you use send out advertisements, newsletters and other junk messages. Most websites these days ask you if you'd like to be included in their communications however some will automatically add you to their mailing list simply for signing up for their site.
Tip: Take a minute to create a free secondary email address for use casually around the web. Use this email address when signing up for non-essential websites so the potential for spam doesn't end up in your primary email inbox.
No one wants a virus so when victims receive emails saying that their computer is infected, some will believe the claim out of fear. Victims think they're downloading security software but they are actually infecting their computers with nasty viruses. To get rid of the virus, the software demands cash to magically clean up the virus it just installed.
Tip: Acquire and use a comprehensive anti-virus system from a trusted company. Many great free and paid versions are available for all operating systems. Having your computer covered means there's no reason to ever download any other random system that appears in your email, real or fake.
We all have that annoying relative who constantly sends us recycled jokes, funny photos or those sensational claims about President Obama. Despite coming from a friend or family member, this too qualifies as spam (and can be ridiculously obnoxious.) So if Crazy Uncle Ray sends you a message with a hundred lines of forwards at the top, be warned that it's likely junk you've seen before or plain old nonsense.
Tip: Create a folder or filter within your mail interface to put all of those inane messages in one spot, out of your main inbox, out of sight and out of mind.
Political or Terrorist Spam
Part scare tactic and part attempt to steal personal information, this type of email spam appears to be from a politician or well-known government office, such as the FBI, claiming that you're in danger. To clear up the threat, the email asks the victims to fork over personal information and sometimes cash. While rarely does an actual threat ever exist, the trick does get people to volunteer their personal information to untrusted sources.
Tip: If you receive something like this, don't panic, but also don't reply. Instead, forward it to the organization from which it claims to be. The office will be able to determine if it's real or fake plus also use the email to better fight similar scams in the future.
Pornography is a huge business around the globe, used by a large percentage of the population and a leading source of malicious content. Porn spammers harvest or purchase email addresses of people, send out raunchy advertisements with plenty of T and A, then direct victims to adult sites stacked with the virtual versions of STDs.
Tip: Just as you'd research any other product or service before using it, do a bit of investigating before visiting, joining or subscribing to adult sites. Many are clean (in terms of malware) and some even free, while others not so much.