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How to Filter & Block Unwanted Emails (Spam) in Gmail

You receive
dozens, maybe even hundreds, of email messages each day. But not all those
email messages are helpful or even wanted. Fortunately, Gmail has a pretty good
spam management system. Even so, there are still times that you’ll receive
messages you don’t want.

It could be that you’re still on an email list from a former project,
despite asking to be removed. It could be that someone you know has
been sending you distracting messages. Or maybe, you’ve subscribed to an email
newsletter you no longer want to receive. Perhaps, the unwanted messages are
spam—messages from a complete stranger.

No matter what
the circumstances, if you’re receiving unwanted emails and you use Gmail there
are steps you can take to manage or even eliminate those unwanted messages. In
this tutorial, I’ll explain how to block spam and filter emails in Gmail.

Why You Get Unwanted Messages

There are
basically two sources of unwanted messages:

  • contacts you know (or knew)
  • contacts you don’t know

Unwanted
messages from people you know (or knew) can happen when you leave a job or project.
Often, your email address stays on mailing lists associated with that job or
project. For example, after I left a corporate job I still received emails
related to that job. 

A year after leaving the job I was surprised to receive an
email invite to their annual tradeshow. They didn’t really want me to attend,
but I had gone the year before as an employee. The people putting the tradeshow
together still had my name on their email list.

Sometimes, you
receive unwanted emails from people you don’t know. Spammers can get your email
address through various methods. Here are just a few:

  • Guessing – They may use an algorithm to generate
    variations of an email. They then send the same spam message to every email
    address generated.
  • Hacking – Occasionally secure lists are hacked
    and details are leaked, including email addresses.
  • Purchase – Some companies sell lists of email
    addresses. Often these lists are created when you respond to a free offer.
  • Scraping – Spammers may use a tool to search the
    web for email addresses posted online. They then send spam messages to the
    addresses they have found.

Gmail already has
some pretty strong spam filters in place. Also, by using the techniques below, you further
reduce your chances of receiving an unwanted message.

What About Cyberbullying?

This section
wouldn’t be complete without a brief mention of cyberbullying. Here are three
steps to take if you receive a threatening email:

  1. Save the Evidence – If you receive a threatening email,
    don’t delete it. You need to save the message as evidence of what is going on. Create
    a folder or label and store the message there.
  2. Report the Message – Cyberbullying should be reported to
    your online service provider. If the sender is using Gmail, you can report them
    through their link. Also,
    if threats are being made then do involve law enforcement.
  3. Block the Sender – If they are on your contact list,
    remove them. Block future messages from them.

To learn more
about cyberbullying, what it is and how to prevent it, go to the U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services site, StopBullying.gov.

1. How to Filter Messages From a Certain Sender

It’s not hard to learn how to filter emails in Gmail or block certain emails. You can keep a
specific user from sending messages to you. You can block their messages, or send
their messages straight to a folder. Here’s how to block an email address in
Gmail.

Method 1. How to Block Messages From a Sender

Now we’ll review how to create a filter in Gmail to block messages from someone by email address. Start with a
message open from the sender you want to block. In this case, I no longer want
to receive these status reports.

Down arrow next to message
Click the down arrow to display the drop-down menu.

Click the down
arrow toward the upper right of the screen. A drop-down menu displays.

Drop-down menu to Block unwanted emails in Gmail
Select the Block option to block an email address in Gmail.

Select the Block “Sender Name” option. A
confirmation message displays indicating that future messages from this sender
will be marked as spam. They will be sent to your Spam folder. Click the Block
button in the confirmation message.

To unblock a
sender, re-open the drop-down menu.

Unblock option
Click the Unblock option to unblock an email address in Gmail.

This time the
menu option reads Unblock “Sender
Name.”
Select the Unblock
“Sender Name”
option. A confirmation message displays indicating
that future messages from this sender will appear in your inbox. Click the unblock button in the confirmation
message.  

Method 2. Automatically Filter Out Messages From a Certain Sender

Let’s look at how to filter emails in Gmail automatically. You can also use
the filter to send messages from a specific sender straight to a certain label
(folder). For example, perhaps I want to filter all messages from a former
employee so that they automatically go to a certain label. Here’s how to do it.

Start with your
Gmail open.

Down arrow in search bar in Gmail
Display the Advanced Search box.

Click the arrow
on the right of the Gmail search bar to
display the Advanced Gmail search box.

Advanced search box with Create filter option
When you are ready, click the Create filter with this search link.

Type the name of
the sender whose messages you want to filter into the From field. You can be more specific with your filter by specifying more
information in the other fields. When you are done entering information, click
the Create filter with this search
link. The Create filter box appears.

Create filter box
Select an option and click the Create filter button.

This box asks you
what you want to do with every message that meets the criteria you defined in
the Advanced Gmail search box.

Note that several
options, such as Delete it and Skip the Inbox, would keep these messages
out of your Gmail inbox. The Delete it
option, in particular, would keep an unwanted message from a sender out of both
your inbox and Spam folder.

Today we are
going to choose to send the specified messages to a label I created called Former Employees.

Check the box
next to the Apply the label option.
Click the arrows in the Choose label
box. A drop-down menu displays showing the available labels.

Choose label drop-down menu
Select a label. Click the Create filter button to create a filter that keeps unwanted messages from your inbox.

Click the label
where you want to file messages from a particular sender, in this case Former Employees. Click Create filter to create the filter. A
message displays at the top of your inbox saying Your Filter was created. Learn more.

All messages from the specified sender will now be labeled and easy to see. Use the Move To icon (it looks like a folder) to remove these message from your Primary tab so you don’t have to see them.

To find out more
about using the Gmail search utility, review this tutorial:

2. How to Block Unwanted Group Emails

As a small business owner, you may find yourself on an email list that you no longer wish to be on. Fortunately, most countries have
anti-spam laws in place that require the sender to provide a way for recipients
to opt out of future emails. To learn more about the laws surrounding email,
review trend 4 in this article:

Step 1. How to Find Subscriptions Using Search

It can be hard to find messages that are subscriptions.
That’s because they are likely spread over several folders or labels. You can
use Gmail’s search feature to find all messages with unsubscribe links.

With your Gmail inbox open, type “unsubscribe” in
the Search box at the top of the screen.

Use Gmail Search box to find unsubscribe emails
Type “unsubscribe” in the Gmail search box to find messages that are subscriptions.

Click the Search
icon next to the Search box (shaped
like a magnifying glass) to run the search. A list of all messages that contain
an unsubscribe link appears.

Search Gmail to find email subscriptions
Click the Search icon to find email messages that are subscriptions.

You are now ready to begin unsubscribing from messages.

Step 2. How to Unsubscribe From a Message

In Gmail, you have several methods for unsubscribing to
newsletters and other mailing lists:

  1. Use the Unsubscribe Email Link – You can still scroll to the bottom of
    the email and click the unsubscribe link. (This works on other email platforms
    as well.) The downside to this approach is that it forces you to scroll through
    the message to find the link.
  2. Use
    Gmail’s Unsubscribe Feature
     – Gmail detects when an email has an unsubscribe
    link. An unsubscribe link displays at the top of the Gmail message, next to the
    sender’s name.

Let’s examine each of these methods.

Method 1. Find Unsubscribe Link

In most emails the unsubscribe
link is at the bottom of the email. Here’s the unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email newsletter I receive
from Envato.

Unsubscribe link emal newsletter example
Click the unsubscribe link to unsubscribe from an email.

Once you locate the unsubscribe
link on the email you wish to discontinue, click it and follow the prompts.

Method 2. Use Gmail’s Unsubscribe Feature

Gmail can detect an unsubscribe button at the bottom of an
email. When this occurs, it displays an unsubscribe link at the top of the
email next to the sender’s email address. Here’s how Gmail’s unsubscribe
feature appears on the email we examined above.

Unsubscribe link at top of Gmail
Click the Unsubscribe link to unsubscribe from the email in Gmail.

To unsubscribe from the email, click the Unsubscribe link. Follow the prompts,
which ask you to confirm your decision.

3. How to Report Spam Messages

Gmail has sophisticated
algorithms in place to send some messages straight to your spam folder. Here
are some examples of types of messages that go directly to your spam folder:

  • messages
    with no content
  • messages
    with misleading email addresses that appear to be from a well-known company,
    but are not
  • messages
    that appear to be phishing for your personal or financial information (more on
    this later)

Google has a
complete list of email types they consider to be spam on their support page.

Here is how to
block spam in Gmail.

Step 1. How to Flag a Message as Spam

You can flag an
unwanted message as spam. Doing this helps Gmail to “learn” what
types of emails you consider to be spam. Here’s how to flag a message as spam.

Start with your
Gmail inbox open. Don’t open the suspected spam email. Instead, click the
checkbox next to the message. Then click the Report Spam icon above your messages.

Report Spam icon in Gmail
Click the Report Spam icon to report a message and to send it to your spam folder.

The message is
sent to your spam folder. Your action also provides feedback for the overall
Gmail spam filter.

Step 2. Retrieve a Message From
the Spam Folder

If you’d like to
retrieve a message from your spam folder that you accidentally sent there,
here’s how to do it.

Start with your
Gmail open. Click on the Spam folder
in the list of folders on the left.

Spam folder
To select a message, click the checkbox next to it.

With the Spam
folder open, find the message you wish to retrieve. Click the checkbox next to
the message. Click the Not spam
button above the messages.

Click the not spam button to move a message out of the Spam foloder
Click the Not spam button to retrieve a selected message from the Spam folder.

A message
displays confirming that the message has been unmarked as spam and moved to the
inbox.

4. How to Report Scams and Phishing Messages

There is a
special category of spam messages that are particularly harmful. These are scam
and phishing messages.

A scam message
contains an offer that is false. A phishing message goes one step
further. It uses the email to gather your personal or financial
information.

An example of a
scam message is a message that claims to be selling a product. If you buy the
product through a link in the message and never receive it (or receive
something other than what was promised) the message may be a scam.

Phishing messages
often appear to come from a reputable source such as a government agency or a
financial institution. An example is a message that claims to be from your bank
asking you to click a link and enter your account number.

In most
countries, email fraud is illegal. It’s also a violation of most internet
provider’s terms of service and of Google’s policies. You can report a fraudulent
message to Gmail using this form.

You should also
report email fraud to the proper authorities. Reporting fraud prevents other
people from becoming victims. In the United States, you can contact the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC) using the FTC Complaint Assistant. In the United Kingdom, use the links on this website.

Conclusion

As a small business owner, you shouldn’t have to worry about
unwanted emails.

You can reduce the number of unwanted messages you receive
by making use of Gmail’s filtering and blocking capabilities. You can also
reduce the number of dangerous scam and phishing emails that you receive, if
you know what to do.

Knowing how to stop spam in Gmail and how to filter or block
other unwanted messages is an important part of making your Gmail more secure. It also helps keep your Gmail inbox organized, so you can work productively in Gmail, responding only to the email messages that you do want. 

If
you would like to learn more about computer security, review these tutorials:

If you would like to learn more about how to work with Gmail, from getting started to using it’s most productive features, then jump into our multi-part Ultimate Beginner Guide to Gmail.