What is Spam?

Intended Audience

This article is for the benefit of faculty, staff, and students who would like to know more about spam emails. The purpose of this article is to explain spam and some of the methods you can use to protect yourself from different spamming, spoofing, or phishing schemes.


This article does not require anything specific and is only for informational purposes.

What is Spam?

Spam refers to unsolicited emails received by a user in their inbox. It is a form of bulk mail and is often sent to a large list of individuals. Think of spam in the same way as you would for an uninvited telemarketing sales call. Much like retailers and businesses who use postal mailing lists to send potential customers catalogs and other information, an increasing number of businesses are using email messages as a direct marketing tool. In general, it’s not considered good Internet etiquette to send spam.


Email spoofing is the practice of changing the From: field of an email so that it looks like the email came from someone else. Email spamming may be combined with email spoofing, so that it is very difficult to determine the actual originating email address of the sender. Some email-distributed viruses that use spoofing, take a random name from somewhere on the infected person’s computer and mail themselves out as if they were from that randomly chosen address. Recipients of these viruses are therefore misled and may end up alerting the wrong person. As a result, users of uninfected computers may be wrongly informed that they have, or have been, distributing a virus.


Email phishing is the act of sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be an established, legitimate business in an attempt to scam the user into providing private information. The email usually directs the user to visit a website where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords, credit cards, social security, and/or bank account information. These websites are fraudulent and are set up only to steal the user’s information. If you feel that you have received a phishing email, you should forward it to the ITS Helpdesk at flint.its.support@umich.edu.


Sometimes you may receive seemingly unsolicited emails from services you previously sign up for. This is, in fact, an email that you signed up to receive when the account was registered with a site, and permission was given to receive postings about particular products or interests. This is known as both opt-in email and permission-based email.

Tips to Avoid Getting Spam:

  • Never post your real email address on a forum or in a chat room. Spammers use special programs that harvest email addresses and use them to build spam lists. Once your email address has been added to a list, you’ll never get off it.
  • Set up multiple email addresses. If you regularly sign up to a lot of web sites, which may sell email addresses as a source of revenue, consider having one email address just for this purpose, while keeping your other personal email address private to friends and family.
  • When you register with an Internet site, make sure you do not give the right to sell your email address to spammers. (Watch for little checkboxes and make sure to remove any which are checked by default)
  • Use the email filters to reject spam with obvious catchphrases in it. For example, debt consolidation, porn, sex, Viagra, hot singles, etc.

Dealing with Spam:

If you suspect a message is junk mail, treat it as such by deleting it without opening it. Common clues include the information in the subject line and unknown senders. Take as much action as possible to stop spam. Users can set up inbox filters to sort through incoming emails to block spam messages and spam sites.


The UMICH Gmail system is protected by the Ann Arbor campus's firewall system. It is set up so that spam sent to your UMICH inbox will appear under the Spam label. There are no extra places to look for spam emails besides here, unlike the old UMFlint Barracuda system. If you right-click an email under the Spam tag and mark it as Not Spam, then Google algorithms will learn over time what is and is not spam. Please see this article for more details: Gmail Spam Email Procedures



If you have any questions or experience any issues with this article, please visit or contact the ITS Helpdesk for assistance.


Location: 206 Murchie Science Building

Hours: go.umflint.edu/hours

Phone: (810) 762-3123

Email: flint.its.support@umich.edu

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Article ID: 6202
Wed 8/18/21 10:09 AM
Tue 3/7/23 1:41 PM