Electronic mail "spamming" refers to the practice of flooding the Internet with an unsolicited electronic mail note addressed to hundreds or thousands of recipients, in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it. It has also been called "junk e-mail". Some definitions of spam indicate that the messages are for the purpose of commercial advertising, which is for the most part true, but not always.

How do spammers get my address?

E-mail spam lists are often created by scanning Usenet postings, stealing Internet mailing lists, or by searching the Web for addresses. Directories are another source of e-mail addresses. The more Internet activity you participate in, the more likely you'll end up in a spam list.

What should I do if I receive "spam"?

  1. Delete the message. Think of it in the same context as throwing away the junk mail you receive at home.
  2. DO NOT REPLY to the spam message. This can inadvertently cause all original addressees to receive the reply, causing another flood. Mailing lists can explode into thousands of recipients. NEVER retaliate with more spam; you're just exacerbating the problem.
  3. DO NOT respond to "instructions to remove me from the mailing list". Most often, this will result in a bounced (rejected) mail message to you. It may also result in hardening your address onto spam lists, as it serves as a confirmation that your account is active and the mail is being read. For advertising purposes, this makes your address more valuable.
  4. Report the spam to the ITS Help Desk. See http://its.uiowa.edu/support/article/558 for instructions on forwarding the spam to the  its-helpdesk@uiowa.edu. We will examine the message headers, and take action if we can determine the source or relay site for the message. We are most interested in reports of e-mail spam that originate from within the University, or that are offensive to you.
  5.  Set up mail filtering rules to automatically delete the mail, or move it to a separate mail folder. Filtering the mail is particularly helpful if you are unlucky enough to receive offensive spam. In most instances, if you do not respond to the mail, it will stop in days, weeks, or up to a few months. Be patient, and it will eventually stop.

Make it stop!!!!

Electronic mail spam is one of the unavoidable pitfalls of being on the Internet. It is almost impossible to prevent, because any user with an e-mail address can "spam" any other valid e-mail address or public electronic forum. The only foolproof prevention is to disconnect from the Internet.

Limit your personal/recreational use of the Internet from your University account. Many web sites capture information about visitors without their knowledge, and then use it later for unsolicited advertising. Newsgroups will always have a record of users who post to them, which are relatively easy to obtain.

Set up a filter in your mail client to trash mail coming from outside of the University network (e.g., mail that is not from a "uiowa.edu" address). If you need to receive mail from off-campus, you may wish to set up more elaborate filtering rules. Assistance is available from the ITS Help Desk at 384-HELP.

In all cases, if you are feeling threatened, report the activity to the Department of Public Safety at 335-5022.  For more information regarding IT security issues, see IT Security.

Listserv Anti-Spam Information

In our ongoing efforts to reduce SPAM on campus, ITS put in place additional SPAM protection for the Mailing List Service (LISTSERV).  Specifically, the SPAM protection that currently protects the University email alias (firstname-lastname@uiowa.edu) was put in place to protect mail going to the Mailing List Service. 

All mailing lists will be protected at the same level and email with a spam probability of 80% or greater will be returned to the sender with a message indicating that the message was blocked.  ITS believes this will provide a good balance to reduce the amount of SPAM received through mailing lists while not creating many false positives. 

Article number: 
Last updated: 
June 2, 2016