Beware the Unsubscribe Scam
Spam emails are one of life’s great annoyances, but they’re a pretty much a given in the digital age. At best these emails offer you products you don’t want, but at worst they can be attempts to steal your identity or your money.
The so-called “Nigerian prince emails” are a prime example. These emails got their name because so many of them originate in Nigeria, and because once upon a time, they all had the same story line: I’m a member of the royal family in Nigeria but I’ve been forced to flee in a military coup…if you’ll help me get my money out of the country, I’ll split it with you. The end result was that the victim lost tens of thousands of dollars or more in trying to gain access to imaginary millions.
Over the years, as word of this kind of email fraud has spread, scammers have had to play catch up in order to continue to cheat their victims. A new tactic that’s apparently making its way around the internet is a phishing attempt that’s actually disguised as an annoying spam email. How would that work?
By getting you to click a phony “unsubscribe” button.
Phishing attempts are another form of spam email that tries to entice you or coerce you into complying with the scammer’s intentions. Whether it’s clicking a link that downloads malicious software to your computer or directing you to a webpage that looks legitimate but actually steals all of your personal identifiable information (and therefore, your identity), phishing emails are a dangerous tool of the trade.
Savvy scammers have leveraged the power of annoying spam and dangerous phishing emails by combining them. The result is a barrage of identical-looking spam emails that promise everything from weight loss to skin care products to work from home job opportunities, all of which offer you multiple chances to click unsubscribe in order to stop receiving the emails. Once you’ve received ten or fifteen of them, you’re more likely to do anything it takes to put a stop to them.
Remember though, that unsubscribe link doesn’t necessarily stop them; in fact, since the sender is the one who embedded the link, it could be installing a virus on your computer or taking you to a webpage that will require you to fill out a lot of detailed data in order to “sign up” to be left alone.
So what should you do about it? If you receive identical-looking emails that claim to be from different senders and have multiple unsubscribe links, there are a few options:
1. Click “report as spam” on the email - Right click it or select the spam button after opening, depending on your email provider, and simply mark it as spam. Yes, you’ll have to do this for every one of them, but it will make them go away and it will help your email provider recognize spam sent from that IP address in the future.
2. Report it to the email service – Companies (even spammers) rely on email services to send out their newsletters, their advertisements, and more. One of the requirements for using an email service is that the sender has permission to email you, such as when you opted-in while purchasing something from their website. Obviously, scammers don’t have your permission, so if you look for the name of the email service (like Blue Hornet, MailChimp, or ConstantContact, just to name a few) down at the bottom of the email, you can reach out to that company directly and report the emails.
Your final option is just to ignore the emails altogether. They’re not harming you just by sitting in your inbox or your trash folder, even though they can definitely be aggravating. Just click delete, and be glad you know how to recognize a threat to your identity when you see one.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.
Read next: How Identity Thieves Use Social Engineering