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What should I do about unsolicited, unwanted, spam or junk email?

The main drawback of using email is receiving a constant flow of unwanted and occasionally offensive email. IT Services regularly receives queries from people on campus asking how the sender obtained their address and how to stop the messages.

If ever you contact anyone off site via email there is no guarantee that your email address will not be disclosed to someone else or made available to others. Companies are much more likely to do this than individuals. Chat sites may make your email address visible, and software exists that "harvests" this information. We have had complaints from people who thought that their privacy had been invaded, and who forgot that they had published their email addresses in journals and on websites advertising conferences.

The Sussex system uses a spam-detection system called SpamAssassin, and while this does help block a huge amount of spam, it cannot block all of it.  Known spamming sites are blocked from sending mail to Sussex.  We also utilise a technique called sender verification to help block spam.

If you receive any unwanted email, the best approach in almost every case is to delete it immediately. It is often clear from the Subject line that a message is junk, so you may not even need to open the message to read it. Some such messages invite you to reply if you want to be removed from their list. DO NOT DO THIS! If you reply you are confirming that your address is valid and that you are reading email, and your reply may then attract more unwanted messages. The basic rule of thumb is Ignore, Delete and Forget such email.

There are no simple ways of stopping such emails. Most people who send them keep changing their email addresses, and it is impossible for the university email system to filter these messages. It is also quite common for such emails to be sent from forged addresses - the message may not have been anywhere near the site from which it appears to have originated.

Another type of spam is called 'phishing email', where you may be asked to provide various items of personal or account information.  You must never respond to such emails.  This is discussed fully in FAQ 1446.

Dealing with spam or junk from Hotmail addresses

Individuals may from time to time forge message headers in order to suggest that the message originated with service providers such as Hotmail. In addition, these individuals may use similar fake reply-to accounts, "remove me" accounts, and other types of drop boxes either in the headers or in the body of messages, on web-pages, in web-forms or in postings such as newsgroups.

You may sometimes find that the spammer has added your e-mail address or account name, perhaps with another domain name, into the header to try and make it appear more authentic.

To help you identify a forged header in Hotmail messages, note that Hotmail e-mail addresses which begin with numbers or which have additional information in the domain name ( are not valid.

In addition, if the message has been sent from a valid Hotmail account, the expanded header will include a line that begins:

If you see a posting on a newsgroup with a Hotmail address, it is most likely based on a forged account. Hotmail members cannot post directly to newsgroups but must go through an independent news-posting service or use another e-mail program.

By reporting the unsolicited mail to the provider hosting the account, you can help protect you and others from future unwanted e-mail.

Remember: DO NOT respond to spam (or junk) e-mail by replying or even following an "unsubscribe" link in unsolicited e-mail. Responding to unsolicited mail only confirms that you have a live address and could lead to further solicitation and scams that can clog your e-mail Inbox.

If you need further advice, please contact IT Services for help.

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This is question number 961, which appears in the following categories:

Created by David Hitchin on 31 July 2002 and last updated by Richard Byrom-Colburn on 31 October 2016