How Do I Identify an Email as Spam?

Almost everyone with an email account has experienced spam in one form or another. In a general sense, you may consider any unsolicited email message as possible spam. However, you may actually wish to receive certain emails without you specifically requesting them, so here are some tips to help you sift through your inbox and pick out the spam from the genuine.

Many spam emails are incredibly easy to spot, such titles as "LOSE 100 POUNDS IN 5 DAYS," and "EARN UP TO $500,000 WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR HOME" are sure giveaways. Generally, any email containing an "incredible offer", get rich quick scheme, adult-related website, or "amazing new product" that you did not request can quickly be classified as spam.

However a more advanced spammer can use some tricks to disguise their emails. Often spammers will make the email look as if its coming from somewhere that its not (ie. an email from probably isn't going to actually be from Mr. Gates). Since anyone can specify anything they want in the "From:" line of an email, it is easy to mask spam emails with dummy return addresses.

A sure way to identify an email as spam is through its header information. The header information contains a number of details about the actual route taken by an email. If the "From:" line matches the information in the header corresponding to "Return-Path:" and "Received:" then chances are, the message is genuine. However, if the "From:" line does not match either of these header fields, then it is a good indication that the email has been forged and is probably spam.

To access the header information of an email follow the client-specific instructions below:

Email Client Header Instructions
Microsoft Outlook Express

With the email message open:

  • Select File from the top menu
  • Click the Properties option
  • Select the Details tab.
Microsoft Outlook

With the email message open:

  • select View from the top menu
  • Click Options
  • The header information is displayed in the box labeled Internet Headers

To view the full header information for all e-mail messages:

  • Select View from the top menu
  • Select Headers
  • Select All

From the top of an opened email:

  • Click the Blah Blah Blah icon


NOTE: you should NEVER open any file attachements in spam emails. These attachements may contain viruses, spy-ware, trojan horses, and any number of other nusiances or malicious software.