Missing Email? Tweak Your Spam Filter

Category: Spam

Spam is an annoying fact of online life that can never be avoided entirely. No matter how good your defenses, a spam message is going to appear in your inbox occasionally. Spam is irritating but relatively harmless if you simply delete it. The flip side of spam can be more serious. What if a legitimate message that you DO want to receive gets trapped in your spam filter? Here's the answer...

Hey, That's Not Spam!

You might miss a favorite email newsletter; or a hot Groupon deal; an invitation to a party; or a job interview. The consequences of “false positives” – legitimate messages wrongly treated as spam – often cause much more trouble than “false negatives” or spam that slips through to you when it should have been caught.

I heard recently about someone who sent a resume to a potential employer, and didn't realize they had emailed him twice, inviting him to visit for an in-person interview. It wasn't until he checked the Spam folder that he realized he was missing those important emails.

The three major free email service providers – Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) – provide anti-spam filters that operate automatically in the background. Each of these services also gives you the ability to fine-tune spam filtering manually when necessary.
Tweak Your Spam Filter

When you see a spam message in your webmail inbox, it’s pretty simple to select it and click the “this is spam” button that all of these services provide. The message is banished to your spam folder and the sender is added to your list of blocked senders; you won’t hear from that sender again.

Ensuring that senders you DO want to hear from will always get through your spam filter takes a bit more effort.

To access spam settings in Yahoo, click the “Options” button in the upper left corner of the main screen and select “mail options.” Spam-related options then appear in the left-hand sidebar.

Yahoo’s method of whitelisting safe senders is rather confusing because there is no “safe sender” label that you can give to an address. Instead, you must set up a filter that specifies “when a message is received from this address, always send it to my inbox.” You can also specify other actions to take when a message is received from a specific address, like sending it to Trash, Spam, or another folder. There is also a “blocked senders” list of addresses whose email you never want to receive; it’s limited to 500 addresses. Yahoo filters are not limited to complete email addresses. You can also filter based on part of an address; on words contained in the sender, recipient, subject, or body fields of a message.

To access spam controls in Outlook.com, click on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen and select “more mail settings.” On the next screen, click on one of the links under the “Preventing Junk Email” section.

You can block senders or add them to a list of safe senders. You can also block all mail from a specified domain or add the entire domain to your safe senders list. Unlike Yahoo and Gmail, Outlook.com does not give users fine filtering control over text in subject or body fields. You have only two filter action options. “Standard” sends everything deemed to be spam, plus what you have blocked, to the junk mail folder. “Exclusive” junks all mail except that from your contacts, senders on your safe senders list, and mail from Microsoft; so you’ll never get email from anyone you don’t know! You can also tell Outlook.com to block images, links, and attachments in any messages.

Gmail’s spam filtering options are the most flexible and user-friendly of the three major email providers. I've used Gmail for many years, so I'm probably biased in favor of it. (Gmail has about 450 million users, and is the most popular webmail service.) Gmail lets you create any kind of filter imaginable and send a filtered message to any destination you wish. I've already published a tutorial on Gmail spam filter settings, so I won’t repeat it here. But briefly, to prevent a Gmail message from ending up in the Spam bucket, here's what you need to do:

  • Open the message (you may have to find it first in the Spam folder)
  • Click the "More" button, then select "Filter messages like these".
  • Choose your search criteria. Specifying the sender may suffice, but you can also fine tune by subject or message body.
  • Click "Create filter with this search."
  • Check the box next to "Never send it to Spam" and click the "Create Filter" button.

Have you found any clever ways to keep spam where it belongs and make sure you get all the emails you want? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Missing Email? Tweak Your Spam Filter"

Posted by:

18 Oct 2012

ALWAYS!! Before completely deleting spam, check through it. You don't have to open and read it, for the most part you can just scan the title. No matter how good you've set up your filter, stuff slips through.

Posted by:

Louis Paul Toscano
18 Oct 2012

From experience I know that Outlook is not effective blocking unwanted senders. I recommend SeaMonkey. Although not far enough along in development to designate as a default browser, its email management is fine.

Posted by:

18 Oct 2012

Why do you never mention AOl? In my experience it does a fine job of filtering spam.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail own about 75% of the market. AOL has less than 5%.

Posted by:

19 Oct 2012

I use OE and always have BUT I also use PopTray, It checked for mail every 1 minuet and all my mail can be seen before it gets to my computer, repeated spam can be added to the spam list by name/content ECT.

Posted by:

Hugh West
19 Oct 2012

I use and recommend mailwasher.

Posted by:

19 Oct 2012

Spam filter on Gmail? Useless. My filter is set up for anything with an @ in the adress is not spam. Does that help? No, I still have to check my spam filter to bring in the genuine articles that have ended up in spam, so why cannot Gmail grasp the simple fact that many, many users would prefer to switch off all filtering to avoid missing important emails? Do they even give a stuff about the users? I think not.

Posted by:

grace carswell
19 Oct 2012

How about tweaks for Mozilla's Thunderbird email?

Posted by:

Richard McCart
21 Oct 2012

Bob The fine filtering you said isn't available, is in Manage Rules. Right click on Folders is one way to get there. Love your letter. Thanks

Posted by:

23 Oct 2012

Yahoo kept sending too many legit emails to my spam folder so I just had everything delivered. Fortunately I seem to get very little spam on that account. However, I have noticed that clicking the "spam" button to mark it as such DOES NOT block future emais from that sender, at least with Yahoo.

My Ggmail account has been pretty good catching spam, but a few legit ones still get snared. My AOL address is also good at catching spam and passing legit emails.

Still it's always a good idea to check your spam folder regularly for legit emails that accidently end up there. Only takes a minute or so.

Posted by:

Ewan Christian
25 Oct 2012

I have the problem in reverse. Emails from obe address that I use sometimes don't get to their destination and there is never a non-delivery notice. I suspect that somewhere I am being treated as spam and blocked, maybe at an organisational level. Given that I can't say to people "Please check your spam settings before I email you!" I wonder how I can suss what words, phrases etc cause that reaction in spam filters.

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