Does Clicking “Unsubscribe” in Spam Messages actually Work?

It’s been general knowledge for years that you should never click on any unsubscribe links found in spam messages. While at first it may make sense to click on such links if you want to stop all the same, it’s believed in most cases the links are fake and do little more than lead you to a spammer’s website and tell the spammer your address is a “live one” that reads and responds to spam.

Recently though, a writer from the New York Times decided to do an experiment and clicked on every unsubscribe link he could find in his spam folder – this worked! Every company who got his removal request honored it.

Of course there is a catch; the most common and annoying spam, such as ads for male enhancement products, the zillion-and-one variations of the Nigerian scam, phishing attacks, and malicious spam containing links or attachments that lead to malware, don’t have unsubscribe links. The author found that the spam he got that did have the links came from small, legit businesses. It appears that the struggling economy has made some companies so desperate for sales that they’ve become spammers.

By the way, the seemingly endless stream of emails you get from websites you’ve ordered from in the past or registered on isn’t spam. It just means when you signed up/ordered, you forgot to uncheck the box saying you wanted to receive marketing emails, or maybe you were okay with receiving them but didn’t realize you’d get so many. It’s true, some companies go way overboard. I know of one who sends me at least one a day. It gets old fast. Fortunately those types of emails always have unsubscribe links!

Written by Sue Walsh


  1. Andy E. · September 12, 2011

    For me personally, I don’t click on unsubscribe links even if it’s from a “legitimate” and reputable sender. Yes, it’s true – unsubscribe links are confirmation portals telling the spammer that a particular email address is active.

    I’ve been an email user since 1995 and I’ve already encountered tons of spam messages of several types. Unsubscribe links are as nasty as the spam itself.

  2. Connor Christian · September 13, 2011

    It can go either way for me. Some spam I’ve unsubscribed from and haven’t had any problems whatsoever. Others don’t offer a link or don’t seem to be concerned over the request. I think with all the recent anti-spam legislation that’s hit in the last few years, spammers want to be able to pass themselves off as legitimate as often as possible, so it could be that more and more are honoring unsubscriptions.

  3. Neil · September 14, 2011

    The trick is that spamming took off before many companies discovered it as a good way of strengthening contacts with customers.

    We have real trouble getting through network based spam filters to the sales individual we want to contact with our new offers.

  4. May Smith · September 29, 2011

    Ironically, unsubscribe works only when the message is not spam. But Connor is right – maybe spammers will start listening to it because this can save them many problems.

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