Stop me if this sounds familiar: You sit down at your computer to get some work done, but it takes you three-quarters of an hour just to delete all the junk mail clogging up your inbox.
You’re not alone. Nearly 85 percent of all emails are spam, according to a 2019 study from Cisco-owned Talos Intelligence. It’s a miracle we get anything done.
But these messages can be more than a mere annoyance. Sure, manually reading and deleting unsolicited offers can seriously eat away at your time, but the emails can also do damage if they contain a phishing attempt, spyware or a virus.
Sometimes we’re the ones to blame for unwanted emails — and text messages — because we gave out our email address or phone number at some point, whether it was to a store to get a 10 percent discount on a purchase, signing into a public Wi-Fi hot spot at a coffee shop or perhaps entering a contest. Or maybe you were into a certain band in 2015 and signed up for its free newsletter.
Regardless of the scenario, now you’ve had enough. And you want to unsubscribe or block emails and texts, but you’re not sure how to go about it.
Legitimate sites: Click ‘Unsubscribe’
If you know the email is legit — perhaps from a clothing store whose newsletters you signed up for, only to regret it after getting 20 emails in as many days — an Unsubscribe button should be at the bottom of the email. Click or tap it, and that should do the trick. But it may take a day or two for the missives to cease.
You may be taken to a website that asks you to specify what you want to be removed from or a reason for doing so. So be sure to read that first and click the right box or boxes.
If the email you’re receiving is truly spam — a Nigerian prince asking you for money or the word Cialis spelled C1a11i$ — or you’re not sure if it’s spam, clicking Unsubscribe is not a good idea. It confirms to the spammer your email address is valid and could invite future messages.
Instead, simply block the sender. More on that below.
Other ways to unsubscribe
Aside from manually unsubscribing by clicking the link at the bottom of an email, your email provider also may detect messages you want to unsubscribe from:
- Apple Mail. Apple’s native Mail app for iPhones, iPads and Macs has built-in detection for newsletter and marketing email. That way, you can unsubscribe without having to look for a specific link in the body of the email. A small tab will pop up at the top of an email when you’ve opened it. Click the Unsubscribe link or the little X to close the window.
- Gmail. If you signed up on a site that sends lots of emails, like promotions or newsletters, Google says you can use the unsubscribe link to stop getting these emails. On your computer, go to Gmail.com and open an email from the sender you want to unsubscribe from. Next to the sender’s name, click Unsubscribe or Change preferences. If you don’t see these options, block the sender or mark the message as spam.
- Microsoft Outlook. Similarly, Outlook offers the option to Unsubscribe at the top of an opened email that’s detected to be sent to multiple people, like a newsletter. This is available on the desktop version of Outlook, mobile apps and at Outlook.com. You should see a link to Unsubscribe at the top of the email, above the sender information, which you can click or tap to unsubscribe and then confirm.
- Yahoo! Mail. This email service doesn’t have an easy option to unsubscribe on the desktop version. Instead, Yahoo! says to do it manually: Scroll to the bottom of the message, click Unsubscribe and a new window will open to ask if you’re sure. But you also may see a Spam icon next to the Delete button, which you can click to block all future messages, or click the dotted icon to find the option to block the sender. On the mobile version of the app, open the email in question and tap the dotted icon to either unsubscribe or mark it as spam.
How to block messages
Whether it’s emails or texts, you can block someone from reaching you.
On a phone or tablet, you might be able to press and hold over a message — text or email — and an option could pop up that says Block or Block and Report. If not, tap the Options tab when inside a message to look for something similar.
On a computer, you can also highlight a message — or open it — and look for an icon that says Spam, Junk or Block, or open the Options tab to look for something similar. Or you can often right-mouse-click over a message and select Junk or Block Sender.
Blocking junk texts on your iPhone when the phone number is not in your contact list is a four-step process. Tap the > symbol to the right of the phone number. On the next screen, tap the Info button. Then scroll to the bottom of the next screen and tap Block this Caller. You’ll be asked to confirm to Block Contact.
Many Android phones have a Block number button right at the top of a single new text message. But if you’ve been in communication previously, tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the screen to pull up a menu of options. Choose Block Contact and you’ll be asked to Cancel or Block.
For both iPhones and Androids, the sender won’t know about the block. You can delete the message and that won’t remove the block.
Again, the exact steps may vary a little based on the program you use for mail or text messages and what device you’re on. When in doubt, Google the name of your program or device and “how to block.”
Be aware that even if you block someone — to prevent future emails, texts or unwanted phone calls — these senders often use sophisticated computer programs that automatically generate where the messages are coming from, so blocking doesn’t always work. The purveyors of some bulk emails use techniques similar to operations that employ robocalls.
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Should you use an unsubscribe service?
Companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have made it easier through the years to unsubscribe, but third-party services are available that give you more options and control. Extra features might include batch unsubscribing or flagging several emails at once.
Some services require you to grant them access to your inbox and maybe your Contacts to match names with senders. You might not be comfortable with allowing that level of access to your communications.
Some of the more well-known unsubscribe services include Clean Email, Leave Me Alone, Unroll.Me and Unsubscriber.
- To bump up your email program’s spam catcher, the Options menu often has a setting to make the filter more aggressive. If you do increase it from, say, “medium,” to “strong,” you might find more false positives blocking messages you actually want. So review your Spam or Junk folder for messages inadvertently snared.
- Create a free email address that’s different from your personal or professional email address if you like to sign up for newsletters, contests and such. Use Gmail or Yahoo! or another free email provider to segregate those marketing-type messages from your other inboxes.
- Install and maintain anti-malware software, which includes virus detection, a computer firewall and a web browser with an anti-phishing feature, as it can all act as an extra line of defense from some of these unwanted messages.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.