You've Got Spam!
Into every inbox, some spam must flow. If you have an e-mail
address, you are sure to have received spam – unsolicited
e-mails or junk mail. Perhaps a few messages – or perhaps enough
to make you consider abandoning your current e-mail address.
Often spam comes creeping in disguised with a friendly subject
line. You think since there is no attachment, or that your virus
filter is sufficiently up-to-date that it most likely won’t harm
your computer if you open it, only to be bombarded with an
oddly-worded message stating that you can get /V\edic@ti0n
(medication) without a prescription. And because of the
anonymous nature of e-mail, the products offered are generally
more personal or downright distasteful. The telemarketer that
calls you at dinnertime would never bring up any endowment
issues or make assumptions about your sexual performance.
For most people, spam might not be a huge issue, but just like
mosquitoes at a picnic, those few little things can get very
annoying if you have to deal with them every time you turn
around. Spam has created and fueled an entire Internet industry
devoted to stopping it. Well, not stopping it – just keeping it
from reaching your inbox.
Spam filters (or junk filters) are used to block or filter spam.
They are included with most e-mail client software like
Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, and even free e-mail services such
as Yahoo Mail and Hotmail. You can also subscribe to online
services such as Spam Motel or Spam Cop.
Spam filters are set to recognize a list of predefined keywords
and trigger words that appear in different parts of an e-mail
message. There are usually a separate set of keywords for the
senders address, subject and message body. Some of these
keywords might cause a message to be immediately blocked. Others
may just add a certain number of points to a message. If there
are too many points, the message will be blocked. This
eliminates “false positives” or valid messages that contain
words or phrases commonly used by spammers.
If you consider purchasing spam-filter software, look for
software that will allow you to customize the settings so that
you will not miss any important e-mail. But be warned: some spam
will leak through and you will likely filter out the occasional
legitimate e-mail. As long as the program you elect to use
allows you to check the filtered-out mail, you should be fine.
In order to combat the amount of spam reaching their members,
many Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including AOL, are
installing their own spam filters. This could mean you are
missing out on important e-mail or your important messages are
not reaching their intended recipients. Some e-mail, for
example, is filtered out if it contains certain “spammy” words.
If you are a member of an opt-in newsletter, you might not
receive the message just for the fact that it is being sent as
“bulk mail”. It might be filtered to a “Bulk Mail” folder, but
more often it might just be blocked without notification to
either you or the sender.
Maybe you suddenly stop receiving a newsletter that had shown up
reliably in the past, or you sign up for another and never see a
single issue. Newsletters and mailing lists are the most common
victims of overzealous anti-spam filters.
Here is the problem with many of the filters installed by ISPs:
- You may never have the option of seeing the e-mail
that has been filtered out.
- You may not be able to adjust any of the filter
- As a recipient of e-mail, you could miss your
subscriptions and important business e-mail.
- As a sender, your newsletter may not reach all your
subscribers – and you may never know. Many of these
ISP-installed filters do not bounce the mail back to you;
it just looks as though the e-mail went through without problem.
If it does bounce back to you, it might just be an auto-message
from the ISP with no descriptive information provided.
The Filter for Your Anti-Spam Filter
It would be better, of course, to adjust your filter settings
to allow a little spam in than to completely block a legitimate
message. In an attempt to make a more reliable filter, some
companies are marketing a spam-filter filter to help relieve
the burden of reviewing messages that have been moved to your
spam messages folder. The filter-filter will step in and review
messages marked as spam, looking for “false positives” (it looks
like spam, but it isn’t).
Blacklists are the original anti-spam solution. Blacklists
identify spammers and block all mail from them. Unfortunately,
these days, they tend to harm only legitimate e-mailers. Spammers
expect to be blocked and therefore constantly move on, leaving
ISPs and their customers to contact the blacklist people and
get de-listed, a time-consuming and fractious process.
The best filtering solutions tend not to block even the most
outrageous legitimate e-mail and allow users to subscribe to
spam they like. Find a good customizable filter program and
watch for missing messages that might be blocked by your ISP.
They can also change their filtering polices at any time. If
you think there might be problem, contact the sender and call
Another tip is to create an e-mail account with a free e-mail
provider, like gmail.com. Then, use that address when online
stores or other forms require an e-mail address, herding spam
away from your personal address.