Unsubscribe scams can work in many different ways. Here's how to protect your systems
Every legitimate email campaign must have an unsubscribe button. The sooner you click on it, the louder your message to the hotel, tour operator or cruise line will get that these high pressure tactics will not be tolerated.
Question: When is it safe to use the button to unsubscribe from emails that I no longer want to receive?
Answer: There are so many ways your email address can be added to a mailing list. How you were added is the main key in deciding whether the unsubscribe button is safe.
Unfortunately, for a long time, malicious cyber thieves have used a seemingly legitimate message with an unsubscribe option to carry out a wide variety of scams and attacks.
Do you know the organization?
If you've done business with a company or have specifically signed up for a newsletter or other form of correspondence from the organization, the option to unsubscribe is safe.
If you've never heard of the company and have never signed up, clicking the unsubscribe button in the message can be risky.
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Why unsubscribing from buttons can be risky
In the past, the unsubscribe button was simply used by spammers to get you to validate your email address so they could sell it to other spammers.
Not only does it verify that your address is actively being used, it also indicates to spammers that you have opened and read the message.
If an unsubscribe button leads to a website, the scammers can collect additional information such as your general location, the browser you are using, and whether you are using Windows or macOS.
This can help them identify the best way to try additional exploits based on the software you use for email, your browser choices, and your operating system.
Most fraudulent websites will likely try to place a tracking cookie on your computer that they can use to identify you when you visit one of their websites.
The greatest risk
Today's scammers and cyber thieves are very sophisticated and tend to use mixed attacks, which means they don't try just one thing.
One of the most dangerous things that can happen when you click a compromised unsubscribe button is that the compromised website can attempt to exploit known security vulnerabilities that you may not have patched.
Note that they can easily tell which operating system and browser you are using, and that the attack can be customized to suit your specific setup.
This is why the constant harping out of the technology world to keep EVERYTHING up to date is so important, especially your operating system and browsers in this case.
Use the spam option
The best way to deal with unsolicited messages is to bypass the unsubscribe button and mark the message as spam in your email program.
This results in future messages from that particular sender being sent to your junk folder and spam tracking systems to help everyone improve.
When shouldn't the spam tool be used?
Marking something as spam from a company you do business with, especially if you care about them, could have a negative impact on that company.
Legitimate companies that you know you did business with would appreciate using the unsubscribe button. However, when in doubt, spam them out!
Ken Colburn is the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services, datadoctors.com. Ask technical questions at facebook.com/DataDoctors or on Twitter @TheDataDoc.
This article originally appeared in Arizona Republic: Unsubscribe Scam: When to Click and When to Use Junk Folder
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