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Every so often I will find myself on a mailing list that I know I didn't sign up for. This always gets me very cautious and I treat the junk mail as hostile spam - don't click, just delete and ignore. However, after regularly receiving mail from the same address (usually newsletters or training advertisements), I'll usually investigate to determine if I can safely unsubscribe rather than have to put up with junk in my inbox.

When I examine the Unsubscribe links in the mail, they'll often go to well-known email marketing sites like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. I take this as an indication that it's generally safe to follow that link, and I will usually unsubscribe that way, especially if there are other indications that the source of the junk is legitimate. This way I only ever go to the website of the marketing company, not the originator.

Is it reasonable to assume that spam coming through legitimate email marketing companies can be treated as safe, or at least safe enough to unsubscribe? By unsubscribing, do spammers learn that my email address is active? If it is safe, is there a good way to determine which marketing companies are trustworthy enough that I can feel safe unsubscribing?

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Most of the marketing companies will only bother you with spams(some of which may be non-security scams), but like you mentioned for unsubscribing we usually click on the link it guides us to a (3rd-party) safe email marketing sites. But the question here is , how can we ensure that email marketing website(on which you are landing ) is not compromised?

Even i have faced this conundrum, so i usually create a separate email-id mainly for signing up on various blogs (like stackoverflow ) That way you never have to worry, even if the spammers know that your email is active.

Lastly, the only way i feel you can determine is if any marketing company is trustworthy enough is by adding a tag to where ever you subscribe (Ex: if email is name@org.com , give your email as name+site@org.com, you can test you by sending test mails). Refer to this link for more info! That way if a company does not honor your unsubscribe request or sells your information you can find out(as you will get that tag in incoming email!)

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The short answer is yes.

To avoid all of the email servers of these marketing companies to be marked as spam, some have different tiers of clients, so when a new client registers and send your first few hundred emails, they are sent from one of the servers with bad reputation. As a client becomes more trustworthy he/she is moved to servers with better reputation.

My suggestion is to always mark unrequested email as spam without unsubscribing as otherwise (as you pointed) the 'spammer' will know your email is still active.

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