Assuming you mean you get 300 spam emails a day, I’ll agree that’s a fair amount. Between my various email accounts, I suspect that I get probably around half that.
The question is not how to stop spam. Ultimately, there’s no way for you and me to do that.
The questions are really how to deal with it when you get it so that it’s merely a minor annoyance rather than an overwhelming chore, and how to avoid it, or at least minimize it, in the first place.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
You Can’t Stop Spam
The bottom line is that anyone can send you email, period.
That’s good in that anyone who knows you and your email address can communicate with you via email.
It’s also bad, since anyone who knows your email address can send you junk trying to sell you stuff or fool you into handing over your private information when you shouldn’t.
Blocking Doesn’t Work
On the surface email blocking or banning seems like the perfect solution, but if you look deeper spammers can work around it almost instantly.
Blocking simply tells your email provider or email program “whenever you get email from this email address, discard it immediately”.
So why doesn’t that work?
Because spammers change their email address. Often. In fact, I’d guess that your 300 spams a day are probably from close to 300 different email addresses. And those are 300 different email addresses than the 300 spams you got yesterday, and the day before and the day before that.
Even worse, spammers fake the email address. They can fake spam to look like it comes from your friends and acquaintances, for example. If you ban one of those then that friend or acquaintance can no longer send you email.
Blocking just isn’t a viable approach any more.
(And for the record, deleting history does nothing with respect to spam.)
Spam Filters Make Life Bearable
What does work are good spam filters.
Spam filters work by looking not just at where email comes from, but the nitty-gritty technical details of the email, what it’s about, what it says and how it says, and how many other people are getting that same email message. If it looks like spam, then the email is simply places in your spam or junk mail folder instead of your inbox.
Of my approximately 150 spams per day, I’d say less than 10, maybe even less than 5, actually show up in my inbox.
If you have 300 spam emails arriving in your inbox every day, it’s almost as if you’re not protected by a spam filter at all.
My sense is that Yahoo!’s spam filter, while not perfect, is pretty good, and as of recent updates to Yahoo! Mail it’s always on – in fact I can’t find a way to turn it off. (For those not using Yahoo! Mail, make sure that your mail service’s spam filter is, in fact, turned on.)
Training the Filter
As I said, the default filter in place at Yahoo! (or Gmail or Hotmail or wherever you do your email) is typically relatively good.
But you can, and should, make it better.
When you see spam in your inbox, click the checkmark next to its line in the list of email, and then click the “Spam” button, or for more options click the small down-arrow next to it:
Report spam (the default if you simply press the Spam button) tells Yahoo! “messages like this are spam to me”. It then takes this information and uses it to refine its spam filter – either globally if enough other people say the same things about emails like that, or perhaps just for you if the systems spam filter supports that level of personalization. Keep doing that and the amount of spam you find in your inbox should decrease over time.
Other Email Interfaces
In the discussion above I’ve assumed you’re running Yahoo!’s web-based email service.
If you’re using a system other than Yahoo!, such as Gmail, Hotmail or any of quite literally hundreds of other services, make sure to investigate the spam settings and options provided, and make sure that they’re set to filter spam as it arrives. I’m particularly fond of Gmail’s spam filter, and route all my email through their servers specifically for that reason.
Similarly, if you’re using an email program such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Mail or dozens of others, take the time to learn and understand its spam filtering features. Some email programs have next to no filtering, but many have the same type of “learning” spam filter that the web sites do, albeit on a smaller scale.
Preventing Spam in the First Place
As I said, there’s no way to stop spam, only deal with it in a way that makes it less of an issue when you get it.
Similarly there’s no way to prevent it from starting. Eventually all email address will get spam. Eventually.
What you can do is avoid asking for spam. Asking? Yes, asking.
Many people unknowingly ask for spam in various ways:
- Posting an email address publicly. If your email address is visible on a web page somewhere that anyone can get to, then “anyone” includes spammers. They have been known to harvest email addresses from web pages on the assumption that they are more likely to be real, active email addresses than simply guessing randomly (which they also do).
- Responding to or acting on spam. Replying to any form of spam is really just a signal to the spammers that they have a real, live person at this email address, and that they should send you more spam. Lots more spam. Even if you ask them to unsubscribe you. Similarly, acting on spam (such as clicking on spammer’s link, or – horrors! – purchasing a product through spam) also tells spammers “we got a live one!”.
- Enabling pictures on spam. The reason that pictures are disabled by default on most spam-filtered email is that the mere act of accessing an image so that it can be displayed can tell a spammer they have a real email address. Expect more spam.
- Giving your email address to the wrong person, company or agency. This is actually one reason many people have more than one email address, or create one-time or “throw-away” email addresses. Many companies will share their email lists with others, or even sell the list of their customer’s email addresses. Reputable companies do not, so keep shopping at Amazon and the like, but be careful when dealing with a company you’ve never dealt with before. Consider creating and using a different email address for this purpose.
The list actually goes on. What’s worse, is it includes items that are not in your control:
- When you send a joke, photo, urban legend, rant or what-have-you to a friend, and they then forward it on without removing your email address from the forward, your email address is now “in the wild”. Worse, when a friend sends you an email like that and does so by putting you and 200 other people on the “To:” or “Cc:” line, they’ve just advertised your email address to everyone else that got that email. And when they forward it without trimming … your email address make it out to potentially hundreds or thousands of people you don’t know. And some are spammers.
There’s literally nothing you can do, except perhaps admonish your friends not to do that – but by then it’s too late.
That’s why I say that sooner or later every email address will get spam.