How to Report a Spammer (and how NOT to)

Category: Email , Spam

A frustrated reader asks: 'Every day I am getting lots of unwanted spam emails, advertising nutritional supplements, fake watches and even attempts to steal my online banking passwords. I have tried filtering them out, but they keep on coming. I really want to report these crooks, but I don't know how or where. Can you help?' Read on for my tips on dealing with spammers...

Get Mad, Get Even, or Just Press Delete?

I usually advise people to avoid spam by using filters to keep it out of the inbox as much as possible, and then just press Delete for the ones that sneak through. Maybe you're content with this approach, but sometimes the spammers can get under your skin, and make you want to do something more. If you want to proactively do something to help get spammers off the Internet, you can report a spammer to Internet Service Providers and other organizations dedicated to snuffing out this electronic menace.

Unfortunately, gathering the information you need to report spammers is not easy. You need the message's header information, which is hidden by default. Using the header info, you would need to identify each mail server and mail relay server through which the message passed on its way to you. You may need to discover the registrar of the domain of a server that sent the spam.

Report a Spammer

Then you have to find the spam-reporting email address or Web page of each entity to which you wish to report the spam message. Abuse.net may be able to help, but it does not include every contact for every domain on the Internet.

Unfortunately, a majority of spam is now sent from the computers of unsuspecting users who have been infected with malware. Millions of ordinary home computers are enslaved in botnets, remotely controlled by cyber criminals who hide in the dark corners of the Internet. So for most users, retaliation against spammers just is not worth the trouble. Hours of valuable time can be consumed to report one spam message. If you don't want to spend your entire waking life snitching on spammers, there are a few other options.

Spam Reporting Options

They don't always get away with it. Some spammers have been caught and punished. See my article Spammers and Scammers in the Slammer for a rundown of cyber-criminals who have done (or are doing) hard time for their misdeeds.

SpamCop is a spam tracing and reporting service that has been around since 1992. Currently, SpamCop is owned and operated by Cisco Systems, the giant networking hardware vendor. After registering as a SpamCop user (which costs nothing), you will be able to send spam messages and header information to SpamCop via email or by pasting the info into a Web form. SpamCop takes care of the gory details of identifying where the message came from and reporting the spam to the correct entities. SpamCop also uses your report to compile a database of spam sources that is widely used by ISPs to improve their spam-blocking filters.

"Beware of cheap imitators," warns SpamCop's home page. Yes, there are phishing sites that pose as spam-reporting services. They will collect your email address as part of the phony reporting process, and it will end up on even more spammers' mailing lists.

Spam Bully is a $30/year personal anti-spam program that not only filters your email for spam, but also reports spam to the servers through which it passed and to the Federal Trade Commission. (Incidentally, you can send a spam message and its headers to the FTC directly, at spam@uce.gov.)

Here's another data point to consider... It is believed that large email providers are starting to use behavioral cues to detect and zap spam. If for example, a majority of users ignore, delete, or "mark as spam" a particular message (or even open without clicking any links) that's pretty strong evidence that the email is unsolicited and/or unwanted. Armed with such data, Gmail and other email providers can simply direct similar messages to the trash if they appear again.

As maddening as the spam problem can be, it's very important NOT to become a vigilante. Back in 2005, a notorious Russian spammer was found murdered in his Moscow apartment. Not even the vilest of offenders deserves that. There are laws in place to deal with these miscreants, so it's best to report any information you have, and allow the authorities to deal with the problem from that point on.

Have you ever reported a spammer? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "How to Report a Spammer (and how NOT to)"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Jack
02 May 2019

I'm in favor of the Russian solution.


Posted by:

Ray Brookins
02 May 2019

Your link to spamcop should be https://www.spamcop.net/
https://spamcop.net/ results in the security warning.


Posted by:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
02 May 2019

I've configure my email client to automatically forward any email that goes to my SPAM folder to spam@uce.gov.


Posted by:

JonK
02 May 2019

If the sending ISP is a legitimate one and located in the United Sates or a few other countries that have Spam reporting sites, then I forward the Spam to the ISP and the government reporting site (like spam@uce.gov).

Yeah, it's a hassle, but I view it as part of being a good Net citizen.

I generally use iptrackeroneline.com to decode the header (I used to do it myself).

Recently, I was getting a huge amount of Spam from Amazon Web Services that got by my filters. I reported them to AWS (they do reply), and now that seems to have slowed.

Maybe it does do some good. Or I'm just naive.


Posted by:

Charles Heineke
02 May 2019

The problem with the SpamCop link in the article above is that the link shows https://spamcop.net/, with the "s". The site isn't secured, so it doesn't need the https://. You need to remove that assumed "s" and just use http://spamcop.net/ (without the "s"), and it goes there as it should. That's always an option to try, when you see an https:// link that doesn't work properly. Just remove the "s".


Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
02 May 2019

One word gmail.

I may have seen one unsolicited spam email in my inbox in every six month, maybe.

I just went through my spam folder and of the 64 items there was only one I felt it necessary to label "not spam," though several were promotions from places I sometimes used, none of those were anything I missed having in my inbox.


Posted by:

Robert A.
02 May 2019

Virtually all the spam I get in email is ads from products and services that I have no interest in - cannabis and erectile disfunction products or insurance and financial service offerings. Other times, it is mailings from publications, mainly Hearst, with its myriad of magazine titles, that are offering tempting sweepstakes prizes, and their business partners, who share my email address with the sweepstakes sponsor. Very, very rarely is it ever from "Nigerian" business proposals.

I always scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the "unsubscribe" tab, usually in the very smallest typeface, and click on it. Often the spammer recognizes my email address automatically, and takes me off their contact list. Others require me to enter my email address, then click to send. In virtually all cases, I stop hearing from those firms, nearly immediately, or in a few days. In any event, when I return to my in-basket, I mark or drag that email listing to the spam icon, as double insurance from future contact from those guys.


Posted by:

Louise
02 May 2019

I have to repeat - - use Gmail!!
I am constantly amazed by how accurate their filtering is and I get a LOT of email.
Furthermore I do a lot of online ordering which gives companies a leg up on sending me tons of advertising. I will delete them for a week or two until my order is complete; then mark them as "unsubscribe and spam" and they very shortly stop coming thru.
I ALWAYS recommend Gmail! I have been using it since you could only get an account through invitation!


Posted by:

Mike
02 May 2019

Ditto to Louise's comments.


Posted by:

johnnieberesolute
02 May 2019

I have 3 email accounts with my ISP, Centurylink. I rarely get any unsolicited emails or spam. The only thing going to my "junk file" is things I have subscribed to in the past but I want to look at only about every 2-3 weeks. Otherwise, I could unsubscribe them. However, I just deleted my MSN email account, because it allows almost anything through - insurance compasnies, illegal drugs, erectile dusfunction, you name it. MSN or Outlook, or whatever they call it now, has almost no spam filter at all. All kinds of trash comes through.


Posted by:

Bob
03 May 2019

I've used WHOIS, a program (or website) that gives the information of who owns a URL. Most have an "ABUSE" ID that they've registered.
The sending site URL, and embedded URL's can yield the ABUSE ID of those that WHOIS will give you.

I've found the great majority of these miscreants are registered at GODADDY. Reporting those emails, via the WHOIS information -- Seems to be a waste of time.

I now just read the subject line, or sending ID and just delete the obvious. Nobody is offering $50 off CVS or Amazon, and KETO diets aren't for me either.


Posted by:

Bob
03 May 2019

DO NOT UNSUBSCRIBE
From Spam without assuring that the URL you *THINK* you are unsubscibing to is NOT A MALWARE SITE!!! Genuine MALWARE will have their hooks in every piece of the email and when you unsubscibe YOU'LL BE INFECTED, SPAM, HOOKED and UNDER THEIR CONTROL!!

If you don't know how to see the URL before you click it, you need to learn or be HOOKED.


Posted by:

Paul
03 May 2019

A large percentage of the spam I get in gmail is from the ocn.ne.jp and ocn.ad.jp domains and so I delete them using a gmail filter. I used to report these to Spamcop but it never made a difference. I guess the owner of these domains refuses to take any action.


Posted by:

Eldred Coot
03 May 2019

The Russian solution seems good. Hanging them by the state would not be murder and it would reduce their numbers quickly.
Do any of the spamers serve jail time?


Posted by:

Mar
03 May 2019

AOL does excellent job filtering spam.


Posted by:

MikeH
03 May 2019

Spam can be forwarded to phishing-report@us-cert.gov. It's part of USA's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC). Another option, if it still works, is to forward your spam to sp@mnest.com and a bot will reply to the spammer for you.


Posted by:

Mark S
04 May 2019

You can simply forward the entire email to the FTC at spam@uce.gov


Posted by:

joey
10 May 2019

This what I get when I try to go to Spamcop -

Connection not protected

The security of your connection is reduced. Criminals can attempt to steal your data from the website. You are advised to leave this website.

URL:

spamcop.net

Reason:

Invalid name of certificate. Either the name is not on the allowed list, or was explicitly excluded. View certificate

I understand the risks and wish to continue


Posted by:

kevin
13 May 2019

I don't agree that by hitting the unsubscribe button is the end-all to your woes. That is actually pretty naive. By doing so, you are confirming that your e-mail address is a valid and active one. Be prepared for an onslaught of unwanted mail!

I use gmail and still receive spam from Nigeria, the dying widow eager to bequeath me her life savings, hackers trying to extort me by telling me they have videos of my sleazy web wanderings, erectile dysfunction remedies, proposals from Russian hotties etc. etc. It never ends. Sometime I receive as many as 28 a day. All because I hit the unsubscribe button. I wouldn't be directing people to do so as clearly you don't know what you are talking about!

EDITOR'S NOTE: I never said to hit the unsubscribe button. You might want to read the article again, focusing on the word "delete."


Posted by:

Tommy Z
14 Jun 2019

I attempted to get to SpamCop in your article How to Report a Spammer, their security Certificate is not valid or up to date?


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