In a 2015 TED talk, James Veitch, the comedian and writer, shows a hilarious conversation with “Solomon” the spammer, about a gold shipping business. When I first watched that video, I laughed harder than I would like to admit at the email exchange. In the end, James urges his audience to start replying to spam emails for fun and to waste the spammer’s time (with safety measures, of course).
The idea of responding to spam emails to beat the spammers at their game and having fun at the same time might be intriguing. However, from a safety point of view, it is not recommended.
The consequence of responding to spam emails can be dangerous. Spreading malware and viruses, verification of your email address, and possible security breaches are some of the potential threats of replying to spam, even just for fun.
So, what really happens when you reply to a spam email? Is it ever safe to respond to spam emails? Let’s discuss.
What Happens When You Reply to A Spam Email?
Verification of your email address
Spammers or scammers can tell when you open their email and certainly when you respond to it. Spammers design emails with embedded graphics that can communicate the following information as soon as you open the email –
- IP Address
- The approximate geographic location
- Your internet service or mobile phone provider
- The name of your company if you’re connected to the corporation IT network
- Your connection type
- Your device type
- Your operating system
- The browser or mail reader app
- Device time and time zone
- Screen size
- Device language
Additionally, spammers can also confirm that your email address is valid. Spam email lists are usually bought in bulk — confirming the legitimacy of one of them raises the odds for the others as well. Therefore, motivating the spammers to send out more spam emails.
Now, that is a lot of information you are sending to an attacker just for fun. Considering the risk-to-benefit ratio, it is not a good idea to reply to a spam email.
Gain personal information
When we interact with other people, either online or in real life, we unknowingly give away information about ourselves. Unconscious spread of information can also happen when you respond to a spam email. Remember, you are not a word-wizard like James Veitch, who made a career out of responding to spam emails. So, the stakes are higher for you.
Like James Veitch, if you keep going back and forth interacting with the spammer, you can actually give away a lot of your personal information without even knowing. If the spammer is intelligent and can read into these subtle subtexts, they can collect your vital personal information. These pieces of information include your age, gender, ethnicity, or even personal relationships. The spammer then can use this information against you in many different ways.
Scammers or spammers can spread malware through emails in two main ways — email links and attachments. You can download and install malware to your system by clicking on any email link or downloading attachments. When trying to engage the scammer in a conversation for fun, you can accidentally click on a link or an image within the email. Even if you are using a pseudonymous email address, as James suggests, you are still exposing your device to potential malware threats.
The malware installation can happen behind the scene without you ever suspecting it. Some spyware can remain dormant on your system for months or years while communicating your personal information to the spammer.
How to Reduce the Number of Spam Email?
I think we can all agree that replying to a spam email is never a good idea. However, what is a good idea is proactive measures to reduce spam emails. Spammers gain access to your email address when it is somehow exposed on the web, which is why it is essential to limit the visibility of your email address on the Internet.
To check your email address visibility, go to Sniff Email — an online platform dedicated to finding out if your email address exists on the Internet. Enter your email address in the search field and click fetch to find out if your email address exists on the web within a few seconds. Based on the results, you can take appropriate action to remove it to reduce the number of spam emails that you receive.