This Is What Happens When You Respond to Spam Emails

There are a few ways scammers use them to steal your info.

Man installing software in laptop in dark at night. Hacker loading illegal program or guy downloading files. Cyber security, piracy or virus concept.Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

No matter what email service you use, spam emails might still make their way into your inbox. Sometimes these emails set off alarm bells—but other messages from scammers are trickier to spot. If you do respond to, click on, or engage with spam emails, there are a few possible consequences.

What happens when you respond to spam emails depends entirely on the kind of spam email, according to Jason Hong, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute. Simply replying to spam emails mostly just confirms that your email is active, making you a target for future campaigns or scams, according to Fabian Wosar, CRO at Emsisoft. There usually isn’t a direct response from scammers. Here are 10 popular scams you need to be aware of, and how to avoid them.


In some cases, the spam links to a very convincing-looking copycat website, says Jamie Cambell, a cybersecurity expert and founder of gobestvpn.com. If you follow the link, anything you fill in on that website—usernames and passwords, personal information, credit card details, and transaction numbers—go right back to the scammer, according to Wosar.

Another possibility is that the link or an attachment in a spam email will download a virus or spyware onto your computer, Cambell says. This download can actively record all your typing and send your information to the hacker. If you do download the software, the scammers could also find and send emails to even more victims and attack websites on the internet, in addition to stealing your personal info. These are the 20 other cybersecurity secrets hackers don’t want you to know.

If you want to avoid these scams altogether, watch out for things like fake invoices and fake UPS or FedEx delivery notifications, Wosar adds. Beware of emails prompting you to download or install anything, log in and change your credentials, and emails saying you’ve won something like a family inheritance, too. Hong adds that scammers tend to use phrases that add urgency to trick people. So they might say you already have a virus on your computer, that you need to update your browser ASAP, or that your account is about to close right now. If you’re still unsure after looking at the body of the email, Cambell suggests analyzing link spelling since even one or two “off” letters might mean the email isn’t legit.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry with your personal information. That’s why Hong recommends not reusing passwords, Wosar suggests downloading an antivirus app, and we suggest keeping an eye out for these 16 other clear signs you’re about to be hacked.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest who previously wrote for INSIDER, the Food Network, POPSUGAR, Well + Good, Westchester Magazine, and more. There's also a 90 percent chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she's not writing away about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.