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Some emails circumvent the spam protection mechanism and drop into inbox. I occasionally see this happen both on web based mail services and on our Exchange mail server.

Some of those spams have a bottom line saying something like "Click here to unsubscribe from this mailing list". The hyperlink has a long address with the "unsubscribe" term in it. I want to ask experienced Web Apps users whether it is safe to click on this link or is it another bait?

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closed as off-topic by Al E., ᴡᴏʀᴅs, serenesat, jonsca Mar 11 at 23:13

  • This question does not appear to be about web applications within the scope defined in the help center.
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+1 for asking a question that more people should be asking! Enlightenment begins with questions, and this is a good one. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 13 '10 at 9:41
@torbengb: Thanks. – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Aug 13 '10 at 10:39
I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about a web application. This perhaps would be a good question for Information Security. – Al E. Mar 11 at 12:00
Unfortunately, while this is a very good question, I agree with Al. Since it is not about a Web App, it is off-topic here. – Michelfrancis Bustillos Mar 11 at 12:49
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Generally, I wouldn't trust it unless it comes from a service you use.

For example, I might signup for service X and not notice the checkbox to opt-out of email marketing. If they start sending me email I would expect there to be an unsubscribe link, since it's required by law. I would expect them to follow the law since I wouldn't create an account on a non-trustworthy website. Furthermore, I gave them my email during the registration process, so they already know it's a valid address and don't need to wait for a click on a link to prove that.

The law also says that "it does not require e-mailers to get permission before they send marketing messages." Which means that even services you didn't sign up for are allowed to send you email. This makes it tricky since that service may or may not be legit. If it's a well known company I would say it's safe to click the unsubscribe link (make sure it's going to their domain though, since the email might be spoofed). If it's from some other company it's a tough call. Personally, I wouldn't click on it, but someone else might have better advice for you.

Another thing you need to consider is that spammers might add the unsubscribe link not only to prove that it's a real address, but also to confuse the Bayesian filter into thinking it's a non spam message.

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Thanks and +1 for your answer. – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Jul 22 '10 at 7:28
o.O It is allowed in the U.S. to send spam mails (I consider every marketing mail I did not want as a spam, no matter whether that is by Google or some cheap "Viagra" store)? – neo Jul 22 '10 at 9:02
@neo, the US laws are extremely open towards spam. Other countries are much more strict. For instance, in Denmark signup forms must by law always default to opt-in so users need to check the box for mailings; in the US, they must remember to uncheck it... – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 13 '10 at 9:43

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