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“I didn’t see your email.” How many times have you said that about a message that went to your personal account? You overlook a rare note from a friend or family member — or worse, your kid’s teacher — because it’s sandwiched between the latest Bed Bath & Beyond sale and a fake computer virus alert. Scrolling your email quickly, it’s easy to see how you’d miss the e-vite to a birthday party or teacher request for extra classroom supplies. According to data from Statista, spam accounts for more than 45% of email traffic worldwide, so most people’s inboxes are quite literally full of junk.
If you have a lot of unwanted messages, clutter is actually the least of your trouble. Spam is a major way that devices become infected with malware—software that hackers use to steal data and damage your computer, says Chris Hughes, an adjunct professor at University of Maryland’s School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology. For that reason, you shouldn’t just ignore spam emails, even though that’s what most people do. Instead, use a third-party spam filter (like Norton Security Online) and follow these five strategies to streamline your inbox while keeping your personal info safe and still getting those nice discount codes every once in a while.
1. Make a second email account
You won’t get twice the junk, we promise! Use one email for your vital correspondence — like auto insurance, credit card reminders, school updates — and another for online shopping, suggests Rob D’Ovidio, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of Criminology & Justice Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia. With this approach, “spam won’t be clogging up your ability to manage your life,” he says.
2. Click unsubscribe
Chances are you don’t frequent many of the same stores you did five years ago, so a lot of the email offers in your inbox are irrelevant. (I mean do you really need to be seeing emails from that baby gear chain when your kids are in high school?) Set aside an hour one day to unsubscribe to emails from places where you no longer shop. Not only will you stop getting junk from them, you’ll reduce the chances of receiving email from other companies that have bought their subscriber lists.
3. Mark messages as spam
While it’s tempting to keep scrolling past spam emails, report the message as spam instead. In most email programs, you simply click on a button that says, “Spam” or “Mark as Spam.” In Yahoo Mail, for example, it’s an option above the email message toward the right side of the screen. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also report the email to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. ”The tools behind the scenes will share your report with centralized network resources so you and others will be less likely to see an email from that scammer again,” says D’Ovidio. Although it’s extremely tempting to respond to a scam email yourself, “Remove me from your list!” doing so it’s actually counterproductive. Says D’Ovidio: “It lets the cybercriminal know that a person is seeing their email and makes your address even more valuable.” And whatever you do, don’t open an attachment or click on a link in one of these spam emails.
4. Use this trick if you need to post your email online
Every now and again, you may need to list your email address on social media or the web. Perhaps your Girl Scout is taking cookie orders or you're coordinating a meal train for a friend. In those cases, do what’s called “address munging,” says D’Ovidio. In a nutshell, it’s disguising your address so computer software that scans for emails won’t recognize it. For instance, instead of posting firstname.lastname@example.org, write out “notme at example dot com.”
5. Add another layer of protection
Most email providers do a decent job at filtering out spam emails, but they’re far from perfect, says Hughes. You can cut down on spam emails by using a third-party spam filter (such as Norton Security Online). That way, the email will have to go through two security filters before it reaches your inbox.