You can’t stop spam, but you can manage it.
Assuming you mean you get 300 spam emails a day, I agree that’s a fair amount. Between my various email accounts, I suspect I probably get about the same.
The question is not how to stop spam. Ultimately, there’s no way for you and me to do that.
The question is really how to deal with it when you get it so it’s a minor annoyance rather than an overwhelming chore, and how to avoid it — or at least minimize it — in the first place.
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Drowning in spam
Spam cannot be stopped, and blocking it doesn’t work. The “right” way to deal with it is to mark spam arriving in your inbox as spam so that future spam will be automatically routed to your spam or junk folder. If your spam filter doesn’t improve over time, it’s probably time to find a new email program or provider.
You can’t stop spam
The bottom line is, 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.
Spam in the spam folder is the system working
I often get questions from people who are getting a high volume of spam in their spam folder.
Folks, that’s the system working properly. We all get spam, and having your mail service automatically shuffle it off to the spam folder is exactly what you want to have happen. That you get a lot is meaningless as long as it’s landing in the spam folder.
It’s when spam shows up in your inbox that we want to take steps.
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 trivially.
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 “From spoofing” allows spammers to change the email address their spam seems to come from. I’d go so far as to guess your 300 spams a day are probably from nearly 300 different email addresses. And those are different from the 300 spams you got yesterday and the day before and the day before that.
Even worse, spammers can fake spam to look like it comes from your friends and acquaintances. 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.
Spam filters make life bearable
What does work are good spam filters.
Spam filters work by looking not only at where email comes from, but the nitty-gritty technical details of the email: what it’s about, what it says, how it says it, how many other people get that same message, and — as we’ll see in a moment — how many other people have identified that message as spam.
If it looks like spam, then the email is placed in your spam or junk mail folder instead of your inbox. Of my perhaps 300 spams per day, I’d say maybe less than five make it to 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 reasonable, and always on – in fact, I can’t 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
The default spam filter at Yahoo! (or Gmail or Outlook.com or wherever you do your email) is usually 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 emails, and then click the “Spam” button.
This tells Yahoo! that “Messages like this are spam to me.” It then takes this information and uses it to improve its spam filter — either globally if enough other people mark similar emails as spam, or perhaps just for you if the system’s 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, Outlook.com, or any of literally hundreds of other services, investigate the spam settings and options provided, and make sure they’re set to filter spam as it arrives. I’m 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 Microsoft Office’s 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 websites do, albeit on a smaller scale.
Preventing spam in the first place
There’s no way to stop spam. You can only deal with it in a way that makes it less of an issue when it arrives.
Similarly, there’s no way to prevent it from starting. Eventually, all email addresses 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 webpage anyone can get to, then “anyone” includes spammers. They have been known to harvest email addresses from webpages on the assumption they are more likely to be real, active email addresses than simply guessing randomly (which they also do). Expect spam.
- Responding to or acting on spam. Replying to any form of spam signals spammers that they have a real live person at this email address and 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!” Expect more spam.
- Enabling pictures on spam. The reason pictures are disabled by default on spam-filtered email is that the act of accessing an image to display it 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 one reason many people have more than one email address or create one-time or “throw-away” email addresses. Many companies 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 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 forward it 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 who got that email. And those people can forward it without trimming the previous email addresses, exposing them to potentially hundreds or thousands of people you don’t know. And some are spammers.
There’s nothing you can do except perhaps admonish your friends not to do that — but by then it’s too late.
Scenarios like that are why I say that sooner or later, every email address will get spam.
Learn to use your email interface’s spam filter. Make sure it’s on and configured properly, if the options exist. When spam arrives in your inbox, mark it as spam and move on.
If you find that the service or program is not getting better about filtering spam after you’ve been marking things as spam for a while, it may be time to find an alternative with a better spam filter. Google’s Gmail, in my opinion, still has the best spam filter.
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