Missing Emails? Tweak Your Spam Filter

Category: Email , Spam

Email spam is an annoying fact of online life that can never be avoided entirely. No matter how good your defenses, an unwanted 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 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. Ouch!

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.

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.

To access spam settings in Yahoo, click the Settings (gear) icon in the upper right corner of the main screen and click More Settings.” Spam-related options then appear in the left-hand sidebar, under the Filters link. 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. If an item was incorrectly sent to the Spam folder, select the message, and click "Not Spam" at the top of the page. The email will return to your Inbox.

There is also a “blocked senders” list of addresses whose email you never want to receive; it’s limited to 500 addresses. On the Settings page, click "Security and Privacy" to manage your blocked senders list.

To access spam controls in Outlook.com, click the gear icon, then click "View all Outlook settings." Click the Mail link on the Settings page, then explore the "Rules" and "Junk email" links to tweak settings that ensure you get the messages you want, and block the ones you don't. 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. You can also tell Outlook.com to block messages that have attachments.

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 over 1.5 billion 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. 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" (three vertical dots) button, then select "Filter messages like this".
  • Choose your search criteria. Specifying the sender may suffice, but you can also fine tune by subject or message body.
  • Click "Create filter."
  • Check the box next to "Never send it to Spam" and click the "Create Filter" button.

That message, and any future ones that match your filter, will end up in your inbox.

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 Emails? Tweak Your Spam Filter"

Posted by:

26 Apr 2019

Nice article, as ever.
However, I use Thunderbird as my email client and Spam filtering is the one thing about it that drives me crazy. It's a simple binary system - all or nothing. You can elect to let it filter for what IT considers to be spam - which it does for about 30% of what hits my inbox - or none at all, and I have yet to find a way to whitelist senders or blacklist them, unless I set up a massive series of Junk mail filters - but that still doesn't affect what IT considers spam. I too have missed several important emails because of its uncompromising filtering. The other alternative is to turn spam filtering off, and accept everything - then I have a mountain of emails to check.

Posted by:

Bob K
26 Apr 2019

All my email comes in via Gmail, picked up by Thunderbird. Long ago I found my ISP was silently dropping emails, both inbound and outbound.

Gmail has been overly aggressive in their idea of what spam is. I really don't get much spam, and would rather receive it than having to log into Gmail to check.

Using Bob's instructions I just set up a filter that should (hopefully) tag all email as not spam.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2019

In contrast, I find Thunderbird exceptional good at filtering spam and continually learning how to improve as you use it.

Of course most spam doe not originate from consistently identifiable senders, so blocking individual sender will do little to stop true spam.

The Bayesian analysis Mozilla Thunderbird does for spam filtering assigns a spam score to each word and other parts of an email; over time, it learns which words typically appear in junk email and which appear mostly in good messages. Works well for me.

Posted by:

Joe H
26 Apr 2019

@thenudehamster - You can whitelist using your address book(s). This can be enabled in a specific account via account settings >> junk settings. Any sender in those books won't be flagged as junk.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2019

I am another one that uses Thunderbird as their email program. I like Thunderbird and I rarely have an issue with this email program.

When I setup Thunderbird, I don't give a lot of "commands" or "filters" to the Spam section. I have found many times, the less that you do when using a program, the more control you have in the end.

Now, I have had to re-setup Thunderbird several times, since I have been using the program. So, my Spam area is relativity is rather sparse. When I first use Thunderbird, I get lots of Spam, even with AT&T's filtering. My basic server is AT&T and I dislike it's webmail interface. However, as time goes on, I "label" emails as Spam and within a couple of months, my emails are the ones I want.

I learned early in the game with any email program to always check the Spam area, to make sure that good emails are not going there, especially emails from new companies or friends or newsletters. Overall, I am getting the emails that I expect to get.

One mention, it doesn't matter which email program you use web-based or computer-based, the main problem is the original email server! Yep, the email server. AT&T was checking my emails and eliminating several due to them being of the "conservative" nature. This type of filtering is wrong on all levels of freedom in the US. Sorry, but it is my right to get the emails I want. I am the one who decides which emails I don't want and will send them to Junk or Spam. This is one reason why I do like Thunderbird so much, I have that kind of control.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2019

Another Thundebird user here, with several gmail and other email addresses. Only problems arise with gmail - often randomly selecting everyday emails as spam, which means I have to visit gmail's site (probably what google want) to check for false spam at least every month, as gmail auto-delete spam at 31 days.
As they pick up next to no real spam, I figured I could live with everything coming to T'bird without a gmail filter, so I tried a filter to allow everything with @ in the sender's address, but still gmail binned good emails.
There does not appear to be a way to turn off all spam filtering with gmail - unless someone can tell me otherwise?

Posted by:

27 Apr 2019

OMG, so it's true! Xfinity email was putting my White House daily missives in the spam folder no matter how much I had indicted this was incorrect. After several months, this has stopped but I'm just waiting for them to start up again. Those running the servers are trampling on the 1st Amendment. What do they hope to accomplish by doing this?

I don't know what to do about the spam problem as about half of my inbox emails are junk. If anyone has Xfinity please let me know how to stop this. It is driving me crazy. Also it is obvious I am being tracked as I'll visit some websites for the first time and then shortly later get spam (in my inbox)regarding the subject matter; i.e., travel or car insurance, etc. that is NOT legitimate. Maybe if they locked these people up for about 20 years it would do away with the problem.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2019

I've never found spam filters useful if I have to check the spam folders anyway--and I have yet to see a spam filter that doesn't flag legitimate mail. I appreciate ISPs who use Spamhaus, for example, which rejects spam so I never see it. I also use lots of addresses so, if one starts to get spammed, I get an idea how the address might have gotten out, and I can change that address without having to change my address with all of my correspondents.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2019

I have several e-mail accounts, which serve specialized functions, and it helps me to keep things organized. I do use spam filters, which work most of the time.

One of those accounts is, basically, used for commercial type of purposes, such as ordering online, etc. I use that as a "lightning rod" for spam, such that I NEVER get any spam in any of the other accounts, regardless of the filter settings.

Every 2 years, regardless of the filter settings, the spam has a way of increasing in that "lightning rod" account. I, then, delete, that account and replace one "lightning rod" account with another account. I have been doing that for the past 8+ years, and it seems to do the trick for me.

Meanwhile, thank you for another informative article!

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