What is spam?

Spam is unsolicited, unwanted electronic mail similar to paper junk mail. It can advertise a range of goods and services or attempt to get you to reveal information about yourself. People who send spam generally harvest email addresses from a variety of sources and then craft their messages in specific ways to keep them from being recognized and blocked by spam filters. Messages range from well-designed and legitimate looking to simple text that makes no sense at all.

Most spam falls into the following categories:

  • Adult content
  • Advance fee scams and fraud
  • Medications and health
  • E-advertising services and business opportunities
  • IT, education, and training


Why am I receiving spam?

The University does not sell its electronic directory to anyone, nor does the University intentionally give out email address lists. University IT does not permit mining of the University’s online directory and does make every attempt possible to protect institutional information while providing appropriate levels of access.

However, spammers can still get your email address in a number of ways. They can grab your email address from:

  • Publicly accessible web pages where you’ve listed your address
  • Forwarded chain letters, joke emails, etc.
  • Online contests or “free” gift forms
  • Documents with your address on them that you’ve thrown away without shredding
  • Randomly guess addresses and hope the destination is a valid address


What can I do?

Avoiding spam is difficult, but there are several steps you can take to at least minimize the amount of spam you receive.

  • Use the spam management software offered by the University.
  • Read carefully when signing up for or entering contests on the Internet, especially ones that are advertised in pop-up ads. These contests often sell your information or send you unwanted information from the company hosting the contest.
  • Don’t post your email address on a publicly accessible web page. Spammers use spambots which are web crawlers that can gather email addresses from websites and chat-room conversations. If you need to post your email address online, spell out the address, like this: JohnDoe AT rochester DOT edu This will prevent most spambots from harvesting your email address because they look for lines of text with the “at” symbol [@]. By eliminating the “at” symbol, the spambots see it as just any other line of text, but human users will interpret it as an email address.
  • NEVER respond to a spam email. Many people try to respond to the email, requesting to be taken off the mailing list. By replying, you are letting the spammer know that your email address is active and that you actually open and read spam messages. Those two pieces of information make you a prime target, and the amount of spam you receive is likely to increase.
  • Do not forward spam to other people you know. Some spam warns about an alleged new virus and its damaging consequences, demanding that the reader send the message to as many people as possible to alert them. Sometimes these messages are designed to simply create a mess of annoying emails, but others will contain a virus or code to harvest the email addresses of everyone to which you forward the message. If you receive one of these potential hoax emails, verify the information with a reputable source before forwarding it to anyone else.
  • When you receive spam, report it then delete it! Most email services have simple ways for you to report spam right from your inbox. You can report spam to www.ftc.gov/complaint  especially report any scam that started with an email and resulted in you losing money. Once you have reported spam, delete it.
  • Set up an alternate email account. Try to use your UR email account strictly for University matters, such as correspondence with students, professors, and staff. Set up a separate email account with a free email service, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, to use for personal business, such as online purchases. This will decrease the chance of your UR email address getting into spammers’ hands and keep any bulk email from cluttering your main inbox.
  • Use a complicated personal email address. Spammers’ software looks for easy or obvious addresses first. Making yours more complicated by using a variety of letters, numbers, and other characters will make your email address more difficult to guess.
  • Read websites’ privacy policies. Unless you have read their entire privacy policy and agree to it, don’t give your email address to any websites or companies. Some may sell your contact information.
  • Register your email addresses on an opt-out list. The Direct Marketing Association’s Email Preference Service allows you to register any or all of your email addresses that you would like to keep out of mass mailing lists. The DMA states that all of its 4,500 members are required to take registered addresses off their mailing lists, while non-members can also use this service.