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Spam Filtering Tips: Avoid the Downside of Spam Filters

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

There are obstacles we have to tackle when it comes to spam filtering. Spam filtering tools are still evolving and let’s face it are simply programs trying to determine based on known criteria what is spam or not.

Right now it is very common that some email you will receive – and send – will be misidentified as spammy and sent to junk or trash erroneously. This is called a false positive. Since spam isn’t going to go away, here are a few tips that can help you manage the inevitable!

Organize Your View

Your email program allows email to be listed either by whom it was sent by, the date or the Subject: along with other criteria. When reviewing your junk or trash folder for false positives organize it by Subject:. Doing so helps those spam that are mass mailed with the same Subject: to stick out like a sore thumb allowing you to confidently skip over them and move on to those possibly misidentified email.

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 malformed, in all lower case, first name only, you don’t recognize it or doesn’t make sense – skip over it and you are safe to let the email be deleted.

Always Check Before Emptying

Checking your trash before you clear it out can prevent the few emails that are misidentified as spam from getting deleted. In my email program, PostBox, I can right click and select as “Not Junk” so that future emails make it through.

Many times spammy emails, don’t have a Subject:, include typical phrases used by spammers or have text formatting that triggers spam filters. When I run into this from new clients whose email incorrectly ended up in my junk folder, I send them a quick note informing them that their email did end up in my junk folder, why I think that happened (no subject, all lower case, text formatting) so that they know if it happened to me, their email to others could also be landing in the trash as well. Once a client is added to my contacts list in my email program — that automatically whitelists their emails.

The reality is that even though you make the effort to not be spammy, filtering tools are not perfect and it will happen sometimes for reasons unknown.

Whitelist Contacts Immediately

With all the blocker software and filters now included with ISP and hosting accounts, the first thing you want to do is create your white list or approved list. Or check if your email program automatically “whitelists” contacts added to your address book. Whitelisting will make sure that your friends and your known contacts are recognized and 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 white list and then do it. Most sites will now tell you exactly what email address to whitelist. If you are not sure, add their dot com to your list so the email you want to receive from them comes through.

On my sites I advise exactly what address I will be sending from and request folks to add it to their list so my emails get through. If you have a website do the same!

Use Attachment Limitations

What do attachments have to do with spam? Actually, this has to do with spam + attachments and security concerns. For example, I have my email program set to not automatically download attachments over a certain size. This gives me the opportunity to see if it is an attachment that I am expecting or even one I want to download. If I don’t want to download it, I click the trash icon and when I check email next time or when I empty the trash, that attachment is automatically deleted from the server without downloading.

Set your download limit to 100,000 bytes. This means any attachment under 100K will be downloaded automatically and help keep your inbox clear while allowing you to review the really large attachments that come in that you were not expecting, could be spam or malicious.

Spam is not going anywhere…

Yep, it is aggravating — and like you, I’m 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 while you pick up the slack. Did I mention to not forget to always check your junk/trash before emptying?

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