Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why is downloaded email disappearing immediately?


I have a problem with Outlook Express. Ever since I renewed my anti-virus subscription my Outlook Express mail rule no longer
works. I had all my contacts highlighted in specific colors. When the emails are being received the colors show and then after
revert back to the default which is of course black. I have Outlook Express 6 and Internet Explorer 7. Any suggestions as to why
this is happening. Could it be my anti-virus provider? Or a setting in Outlook Express? I’ve tried everything until I’m blue in the

I get variations on this question all the time. The symptoms in this example are actually rather mild – much more
common are mails that are downloaded and then immediately disappear. It can also happen across a wide variety of email programs as

There is a common thread, though. In fact, the question above alludes to it. (And it has nothing to do with the color of your
face Smile.)


It’s very possible that anti-virus, or rather anti-malware software is at fault.

The problem is that many anti-malware packages – particularly the security suites that try to do many things – often include a feature whereby they will scan email as you download it. There’s really no facility for this kind of intrusion built into the way that email is handled, so different anti-malware tools insert themselves into the process in different ways.

“You may end up with that classic computer phrase ‘unexpected results’ …”

Sometimes those “different ways” can interfere with what your email program is expecting. You may end up with that classic computer phrase “unexpected results” – which is just a fancy way of saying “we don’t know what’ll happen, but it probably won’t be good”.

The good news is that most anti-malware tools allow you to control whether they scan email, and often just how intrusive they should be. In other words, you can turn it off.

The bad news is that there’s no common terminology to look for.

If you’re experiencing problems with missing messages or for that matter any kind of odd behaviour with your desktop email program, one of the first things to do is to fire up your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and look for options related to email processing. Terms to look for include “email”, of course, but also thing like “phishing”, “scam”, and perhaps technologies like “POP3” and/or “IMAP”. It’s worth spending a few minutes with the documentation for those programs to make sure you’ve got the email-related services turned off.

In fact, I heard back from the person who originally posted the question above, and sure enough…

Thank you for your input. Its’ not the firewalls as I discovered today. It’s McAfee’s email configuration under “Email Toolbars”. They have an anti-spam toolbar which showed up in my OE when I renewed my subscription. I went to my email applications in their program where it says “Display the anti-spam toolbar in these email programs” and unchecked “Microsoft Outlook Express/Windows Mail”. The toolbar disappeared the next time I opened OE and my message rule was activated. I suppose it was put there by default. I am now a happy camper.”

Now, it’s natural to ask “am I putting myself at greater risk by turning off my anti-virus program’s email security features?”

Yes, no and maybe.

First, realize that I recommend turning them off as a diagnostic step. If doing so doesn’t resolve the problem you’re having, then after all is said and done (ideally after the problem is resolved), feel free to turn them back on.

Second, in many cases active email scanning is somewhat redundant, or can be accomplished in other ways. For example, scanning attachments can be done on disk after your email has been received, and may even be caught by a regular full disk scan – the only difference being timing.

Finally, all the protection in the world is no substitute for common sense and education when it comes to email. Even when on, you still need to remain vigilant to avoid the latest malware, phishing attempts and scams.

Personally, when offered, I always turn off intrusive email scanning in any malware tool I use or manage, both to avoid problems and to reduce the complexity and potential for performance impact.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

3 comments on “Why is downloaded email disappearing immediately?”

  1. In regard to saving email – I personally don’t currently employ any antispam programs on my computer… (I had a very bad experience with another anti-spam / antivirus program, similar to the one you describe). I couldn’t find a way to stop it from blocking legitimate email. When going through the FAQ’s and contacting them didn’t help, I uninstalled the program. Now what I do is open my email in the Verizon site, and use their spam filter to block the spam. (Verizon lets some spam through, but never blocks legit email). Then I close the window, and open Outlook Express, and read spam-free email. Then I can safely file my email to folders. At the end of the month, I highlight and drag the folders to a folder in My Documents labelled “email (adding the name of the month, and the year). This works for me. Please note that this is NOT a plug for Verizon, they are my internet service provider. I’d guess that other providers offer the same type of service as well.
    Albert L.

  2. Leo…. You are a dream find! I have been struggling for almost a week trying to fix my Outlook that wouldn’t stay open.

    I tried system restore, scans, forums with other’s advice, etc. I found your website and within minutes you solved my problem. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! You have given me such relief and easy to follow instructions on how to fix problem.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.