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Friday, January 05, 2007

Email: How to Deal with Spam if You're Already on a Spammer's Hit List

A reader emailed, "Your system seems to be fine for new e-mail contacts, but what about the garbage I am already getting? I have three e-mail accounts. How would I include spam sent to them?" If I guess correctly, the "system" he or she is referring to is outlined in my article on using Gmail's plus-addressing to catch spam.

It's relatively easy to prevent spam from hitting your inbox if you've prepared for it in advance, but what if you're already on a spammer's hit list? There are a couple of ways I can think of to filter out spam:
  • Use a whitelist: In an email client like Thunderbird, you can view messages by People I Know. Only emails from people in your addressbook will show up. Of course, the downside is that you might miss an important email from someone not on your list, but that's a common problem with all anti-spam measures.
  • Use Gmail: A little trite, but it's true. Gmail has an excellent spam filter. I haven't seen a single piece of spam in my inbox since I opened my account. Everything spammy automatically goes into my Spam folder.
  • Use filters: Common spam will contain words like PayPal, Viagra (or variants thereof), Dear Sir/Madam (commonly used by Nigerian spammers), lottery, and eBay. If you don't expect to ever receive email from or concerning PayPal, eBay, or any of the other words, you can apply filters to your account so that emails containing these dubious words will be automatically placed in the trash bin.
  • Use SpamAssassin: For the more technically minded readers, this is a very useful email filter that can identify spam emails for you. Although it's mainly geared toward Linux users, there are Windows installation instructions available. Also take a look at SpamBayes, a mail filter that you can teach to recognize spam.
  • Other methods: Depending on what email provider you use, you might or might not be able to implement the suggestions above. If you can't implement any of my suggestions, try looking in the Help section of whatever webmail or email client you're using since there is usually something on how to avoid spam.
As a final suggestion, create multiple email accounts like Urgent, Not So Urgent, People I Want to Avoid, and so on. Use filters to divert urgent messages from whatever email addresses you can't delay reading into the appropriate folder, and messages that can wait into the others. You won't be able to completely avoid weeding through spam messages, but it should let you work more productively.

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