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Boulder Computer Maven Newsletter - February 2006

Dear Friends,

Thank you for letting me help you with your computer needs. This is my customer newsletter, containing tips that I hope you'll find interesting and helpful.

This month's topic is spam, otherwise known as junk mail, bulk mail, or unsolicited commercial E-mail. It's a problem for almost everyone who uses E-mail, and some people receive hundreds of spam messages every day. I'll be happy to help you set up the best spam-fighting solution for your E-mail account.

If you don't want to receive this newsletter, let me know, and I'll remove your name from my mailing list. Previous issues are available on the newsletters page of the Boulder Computer Maven web site. If you change your E-mail address, please send me your new one.

I invite you to call me at 303-444-8247 with questions or to schedule an appointment. I want to help you get the most from your computer.

Best Wishes,
Steve Winograd

Helping People Use Computers in Boulder for Over 20 Years

Why Do I Get Spam?

Most spam has one purpose: to sell fraudulent products. It costs a spammer almost nothing to send millions of messages, and it only takes a few naive people buying a product to make money for the spammer. Some ways that a spammer can get your E-mail address are:

How Can I Avoid Getting Even More Spam?

Delete spam messages without reading them. Never reply to a spam message, even if it has a link that says that it will remove you from the sender's address list. Replying verifies that your address is real and could get you even more spam. Don't send a bounce message that says that your address doesn't exist. The return address in most spam messages is phony, so the spammer won't see the bounce.

Disguise your address when you post a message in a chat room, news group, or forum. Spammers run automated programs that read messages and harvest the E-mail addresses in them. You can add characters that are easy for a person to recognize and remove, but hard for an automated program. For example, if your E-mail address is me@somewhere.net, post it as me@someREwhereMOVE.netTHIS or mezzz@somewherezzz.netzzz.

Use a disposable E-mail address when you buy from an Internet store. If the address starts to receive spam, cancel the address.

Turn off the preview pane (also called a message pane or reading pane) in your E-mail program. Previewing a message can send a signal to the spammer that you've received the message.

Some spam messages request an automatic return receipt, which verifies that your address is real. Configure your E-mail program to never send a return receipt, or to ask you before sending one.

How Can I Deal with Spam That I'm Already Getting?

Use spam filtering, which either deletes suspected spam automatically (not recommended, because it can mistakenly delete valid messages) or removes suspected spam from your Inbox and puts it in a separate folder. You can review the spam folder periodically, move any valid messages to your Inbox, and delete all of the spam at once. If your E-mail service has a way for you to report spam that it left in the Inbox (like the REPORT AS SPAM button in Comcast web mail), use that to help improve its spam filtering. Create a list of trusted senders (also called a friends list or white list) whose messages will never be classified as spam. In my tests, the best spam filters identify more than 95% of spam, and the worst ones identify less than 50%.

Some E-mail services that offer spam filtering (and their performance in my tests) are: MSN (excellent), Hotmail (excellent), Google Mail (excellent), Comcast (very good), Earthlink (bad), AOL (bad), and Yahoo! (very bad).

You can use Google Mail's excellent spam filtering even if your E-mail address is at an Internet service provider like AT&T or Earthlink. If you'd like to use Google Mail to filter mail for your existing E-mail address, please tell me. I'll get you an account and help you set everything up.

Some E-mail programs with built-in spam filtering are: Netscape Mail (excellent), Mozilla Thunderbird (very good), Microsoft Outlook 2003 (good), and Earthlink MailBox (bad).

Here are some spam filtering programs that work with your existing E-mail program. They're especially useful with programs like Outlook Express and Microsoft Outlook 97/2000 that don't have built-in spam filtering:

  • K9 (excellent). The best spam filtering that I've found, and it works with any E-mail program.
  • MailWasher Professional (very good). Identifies spam and lets you preview messages safely and delete them before running your E-mail program.
  • SPAMfighter (good). Integrates spam filtering into Outlook Express and Microsoft Outlook.

Most spam filtering programs require training. For example, K9 has a Spam button that you click if it identifies a spam message as valid, and a Good button that you click if it identifies a valid message as spam. These programs don't do very well at first, but the more you train them, the better they get.

For more spam filtering options, see the Spamotomy web site.