The good news is there is a national "do not email" list where you can easily register your email address and reduce the number of unsolicited emails you receive. The bad news is that even if you add your address to this list, your email inbox will still be overflowing with spam. Unfortunately, there is currently nothing for email that is as legally enforceable or as broad in scope as the official Do Not Call list for telemarketers. However, there are steps you can take, beyond just registering for the "do not email" list, to minimize the amount of unwanted email you receive.
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Do Not Email
The Direct Marketing Association, the largest trade association for marketers in the U.S., operates the Email Preference Service. Once you register your email address at eMPS, DMA members are required to scrub your address from their email marketing lists. EMPS is part of the DMA's broader program, DMAChoice, that allows consumers to limit the amount of marketing materials they receive through email or traditional mail. You can register at eMPS with a simple online sign-up.
Limitations of the List
EMPS will reduce the number of emails sent to a registered address. However, there are many types of marketing emails that will still reach your inbox. The eMPS "do not email" service only applies to DMA members and has no effect on the many sources of unsolicited email that originate from non-member sources. Furthermore, each DMA member is responsible for monitoring its compliance with eMPS; a company that neglects to update its email marketing lists by deleting eMPS registrants will still send emails to your registered address.
Using Email Filters
Most email systems have built-in spam filters that automatically screen incoming email traffic and send mail that are obvious spam to a "junk" folder. The filters work through a combination of strategies, including looking for unwanted keywords and phrases, checking the sender's address against a blacklist of unwanted sites or a whitelist of acceptable sites, and spotting attempts to mask the actual origin of the email. Depending on which email system you use, you may be able to adjust the overall level of screening to more aggressively shunt emails into the junk folder. However, this strategy will likely also increase the number of false positives, which means some emails will be incorrectly identified as spam and diverted from your inbox.
Your system may also allow you to list particular addresses or keywords that you want to screen for; emails matching your inputs will also be treated as spam. Email filters can sometimes self-adjust based on your feedback. Look for a button on your emails to indicate a message is spam and click it when appropriate so your system can learn your preferences.
Other Steps You Can Take
Many advertising emails include instructions for unsubscribing from the mailing list that includes your email address. Unsubscribing generally involves clicking a link, often at the bottom of an email, and following the resultant instructions. You should exercise care, however. Unsubscribe links from legitimate businesses are generally effective. At times, however, the unsubscribe option itself can be deceptive, soliciting information that will only invite more spam messages. As with all emails from unknown sources, you need to exercise your best judgement. You can also install freeware, shareware or paid anti-spam software that integrates with your email system to provide an additional line of defense in diverting unwanted emails from your inbox.