Dealing with Spam

Many consumers get emails from organizations sending information about new products, special offers, warranties, subscription renewals, and newsletters. Yet the explosive growth of the Internet has resulted in email inboxes becoming filled with unsolicited sales pitches, marketing promotions, and shady offers. Known as spam, these unwanted and sometimes offensive messages clog inboxes, waste time, and can cause you to miss legitimate emails from reputable companies you may know or already be doing business with.

CMA's corporate members are banned from sending spam email to acquire new customers. Our mandatory Code of the Ethics and Standards of Practice requires members to ensure that prospective clients have consented to receiving commercial emails. Implied consent may be assumed where a relationship already exists between the sender and recipient. All electronic messages must provide the recipient with the online means to easily unsubscribe from further email communications.

On July 1, 2014, Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL) went into effect to help minimize the amount of unsolicited communications consumers receive. For further information on the Law and how to report spam, visit the Government of Canada website.

Unwanted Spam vs. Harmful Spam

Unwanted spam is bonafide. It will not harm your computer, and can be opened and acted upon accordingly (i.e. clicking on the unsubscribe button). The same is not true, however, of harmful spam, which may contain malware or spyware that can significantly harm your computer, steal your identity, or worse. Emails of this nature often have incorrect grammar or spelling, suspicious attachments, requests for personal information, too-good-to-be-true offers, email domains that do not appear legitimate (i.e., etc. In such cases be wary of opening, replying, or even clicking the “unsubscribe” button, as this will notify the spammer of your receipt and lead to incessant and increasingly harmful spam.

Distinguishing Spam from Legitimate Email

To help you determine if an email is legitimate or spam, remember:

  • If you asked for it, it's not spam. Mass emailings of a commercial nature are legitimate if you invited the communication by signing up for 'news' on certain topics or for offers of a particular kind.
  • Email from friends is not spam. Forwarded messages from friends that ask you to send the message to 10 other people, although unwanted, is not spam. If you know the person, it's best to politely ask them to stop sending you forwarded emails. Nonetheless, it could sometimes happen that your friends get a computer virus which then sends spam emails to their contact list. If you get a blank email from a friend, or one with a subject line that you suspect your friend would never write (i.e. sign-up for an amazing offer), it’s best to delete the email or call your friend to confirm they are the true author.
  • Your bank and other reputable financial institutions will never contact you by unsolicited email to request personal information in order to address a supposed “security issue”, for instance by asking you to confirm a password.
  • If you've signed up for a newsletter and no longer wish to receive it, just unsubscribe. Any legitimate organization will provide an easy way for you to be taken off their subscription list. However, be cautious when unsubscribing to a newsletter from an unknown organization, especially if the unsubscribe process involves requests for unnecessary additional information. Some spammers masquerade as newsletters with "unsubscribe information" that can serve to confirm that your email is valid and cause you to receive even more spam.

How can you detect Harmful spam?

While most spam is unwanted, some can be harmful. A few common indicators of harmful spam are: incorrect grammar or spelling, suspicious attachments, request for personal information, too-good-to-be-true offers, email domain (i.e. @) does not appear legitimate, etc. In such cases be wary of opening, replying, or even clicking the “unsubscribe” button, as this will notify the spammer of your receipt. This could lead to incessant and increasingly harmful spam.

Any email that you receive from a person or organization that you have never heard of is most likely harmful spam. Be especially wary about opening any attachments from unknown senders as these can contain malware or spyware. Instead, if you have no knowledge of the sender and do not know why you are receiving the message, it may be better to simply delete the email.

Little Black Book of Scams

The Competition Bureau of Canada’s Little Black Book of Scams offers some very useful tips on ways to identify, avoid, and deal with a host of scams, including both harmful and unwanted spam. Below is an excerpt as it relates to protecting yourself from harmful spam.

THINK Don’t reply to harmful spam emails, even to unsubscribe, and do not click on any links or call any telephone number listed in a harmful spam email. Make sure you have current protective software or get advice from a computer specialist.
INVESTIGATE If an email or pop-up offers you a product or service that genuinely interests you and it seems reasonable, be sure that you understand all the terms and conditions and costs involved before making a purchase or providing your personal or financial information.
ASK YOURSELF By opening this suspect email, will I risk the security of my computer? Are the contact details provided in the email correct? Telephone your bank or financial institution to ask whether the email you received is genuine.
  Source: The Little Black Book of Scams, The Canadian Edition. The Competition Bureau of Canada, 2012. P. 9


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