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Spam Filtering Tips: Avoid the Downside of Spam Filters

Here's how to avoid the downside of spam filters.

“I hate all this spam – what can I do about it?”

Only so much. Spam filtering tools are still evolving. Let’s face it; they are simply software programs trying to determine based on known criteria what is spam or not. And there is no context.

Right now, you can expect that some emails you will receive – and send – will be misidentified as spammy. So off to the junk, spam, or trash folders they go, albeit erroneously.

This is a false positive. Since spam isn’t going to go away, here are a few tips to help you manage the inevitable.

Organize Your View

You can view email in the order of who sent it, the date or the Subject, and other criteria. Therefore, when reviewing your junk or trash folder for false positives, organize it by Subject.

Viewing by Subject helps the spam with the same Subject stick out like a sore thumb. This will allow you to confidently skip over them and move on to those possibly misidentified emails.

Next, as you peruse the list for those Subjects that appear to be legitimate, take a quick look over to see who sent it. If the name is in all lower case, the first name only, and you don’t recognize it or doesn’t make sense – skip over it. Then, you are safe to delete.

Always Check Before Emptying

Checking your junk, spam, and trash before clearing these folders out will help not delete legitimate emails. In my email program, PostBox, I can right-click and select “Not Junk” so that future emails make it through.

Often, spammy emails don’t have a Subject field. Or the Subject includes typical phrases used by spammers and has text formatting that triggers spam filters. When I run into this from contacts whose email lands in my junk folder, I send them a quick note to let them know.

I then share why I think it happened (no subject, all lower case, text formatting) so that they know that their email to others could also be landing in the trash if it occurred to me. In addition, once a contact is on my email program contact list in my email program, they are on my whitelist.

Whitelist Contacts Immediately

With all the blocker software and network filters now included with ISP and hosting accounts, the first thing you want to do is set up your whitelist or approved senders list.

Check to see if your email program or provider automatically “whitelists” contacts added to your address book. Whitelisting will recognize your friends and your known contacts to ensure they have the best chance to land in your inbox.

If you sign up for newsletters or mailing lists, pay close attention to any notice of what email address you should immediately add to your approved or whitelist and then do it. Most sites will now tell you exactly what email address to add. If you are unsure, add their dot com to your list, so the email you want to receive from them comes through.

I advise what email address I will be sending from on the confirmation page on some of my websites. I also request that folks to add it to their whitelist so my emails get through. If you have a website, you want to do the same thing.

Use Attachment Limitations

What do attachments have to do with spam? Actually, it is about spam + attachments and security concerns. For example, I have my email program set to not automatically download attachments over a specific size.

This setting allows me to see if it is an attachment that I am expecting or even one I want to download. Then, if I don’t want to download it, I click the trash icon. Then, when I check email next time or empty the trash, that attachment is automatically deleted from the server without downloading.

You can set your download limit to match your available resources. Start at around 100,000 bytes. This means any attachment under 100K will be downloaded automatically and help keep your inbox. You then can review the larger attachments that come in that you were not expecting and that could be spam or malicious.

Spam is not going anywhere…

Yep, it is aggravating — and like you, I get frustrated that I have to spend time dealing with it. But, by putting these tips in place, you’ll find a bit of relief by letting your email filters and software do the best they can do.

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