Get Garcia: Clicking "Unsubscribe" Could Lead to More Spam

One wrong click could open the doors to multiple spammers.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Clifford Neuman, the director of the University of Southern California Center for Computer Systems Security, explains why unsubscribing from unwanted emails opens up the flood gates for more spam. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on July 18, 2012.

    Most users’ email accounts connect them with family, friends or co-workers in a quick and convenient manner. However, those email accounts can also deliver some intrusive, annoying and at times malicious, unsolicited emails, more commonly known as spam.

    The problem is getting rid of spam can be more difficult than you think and one wrong click could open the doors to multiple spammers.

    Steve Filipiak’s inbox was flooded with spam emails, and he tried to stop a spammer by instinctively clicking the unsubscribe box. For Filipiak, the frustration mounted and he tells others to think twice before clicking that link.

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    “Don’t unsubscribe. Never ever,” Filipiak told NBC 4.

    To get back at the spammer, he typed “F--- You” in the unsubscribe box hoping to never see any more spam in his inbox. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the solution.

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    In fact, it had the opposite effect. The next day, he received an email reading, “Dear F*** You.”

    Filipiak says more spammers were sending him emails after that incident.

    “Oh, thousands,” he said. “They were just coming in—you could watch them pop in one after the other.”

    The Get Garcia team spoke with Clifford Neuman, the director of the University of Southern California Center for Computer Systems Security, to find out how to control the issue.

    “If you look at some of these messages that have an unsubscribe link, clicking on the link may confirm that it is a valid address,” Neuman told NBC 4.

    Neuman says spammers are trying to make as much money as possible. Generally the spammer gets paid each time there is any response to an email. That means when a user clicks on the unsubscribe button, it is worth more money because it tells the spammer that it’s an active account.

    “If they send out a million messages and one-tenth of one percent is actually going to be fooled by it, then that’s still a thousand victims,” Neuman said.

    The most common way to get rid of spam is to delete the email when you receive it, but depending on your mail server, there could be a better option.

    Some mail programs feature a button where you can mark an email as spam, and once you do that, future emails from that address will automatically go to the junk folder.

    Programs like Gmail and Yahoo share that information with other users to prevent them from getting the same spam emails.

    According to Neuman, spam victims should also use anti-virus software. It will detect malicious attachments that could end up infecting your computer and collecting personal information.

    As for Filipiak, he said he learned his lesson.

    “Clicking unsubscribe ratcheted everything up another notch,” said Filipiak. He had to create a new email address to escape all of the spam.

    If you have a story for the Get Garcia team, sent your tips to GetGarcia@nbcuni.com or call the tipline at 818-520-TIPS.

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