Why Do I Receive So Many Spam Messages?

Spam is geek terminology for unsolicited junk email and messages. Spam is fast becoming a huge problem. It’s starting to cost corporations millions of dollars each year to filter out spam, and handling spam has required companies to increase their server storage space and Internet bandwidth for all the extra traffic it generates.

Once you give out your email address to a company, it may be sold to other companies. Those other companies quite often sell your email address to other companies, and so on into infinity. The following are some of the most common ways people unwittingly offer their email addresses to companies:

  • Filling out online registration forms
  • Entering contests
  • Engaging in online discussion groups
  • Filling out online surveys
  • Choosing a common name for your email address
  • If you belong to America Online (AOL), having a member profile and/or participating in chat rooms

Also, some companies use a method called a dictionary attack. They compile many common names to form a list, or dictionary of names, and then mix names from this list with a list of arbitrary domain names in the reasonable expectation that some of the resulting combinations will be valid.

Is There Anything I Can Do About Spam?

Once you start receiving spam, it is practically impossible to put a stop to it without changing your email address. Some Internet service providers (ISPs) have started to filter spam messages before they reach you; however, automating a process to decipher an unwanted advertisement from a wanted advertisement is practically impossible.

Some advertising messages are legitimate, and you may have even requested that they be sent to you. For example, you may ask a retailer to send you an email concerning any upcoming specials or sales. Your ISP cannot determine if the message sent had your prior approval. As a result, many spam messages are not intercepted by your ISP.

Some spam messages offer you the option to be taken off of their email list. In most cases, when you respond to these messages, your request doesn’t go through, because the address they are directing you to is fake.

Other times, when your request does go through, they use it as verification that you received their email advertisement. Now they know you are receiving and reading their messages, which makes your email address even more valuable to them (as well as to other companies that they may sell it to).

Only if the email comes from a large, reputable company or if you previously requested to be sent email advertisements should you ever request to be removed from a mailing list. You can enable filtering for all of your email by setting rules and restrictions in your email software.

With the filters configured to your preferences, your email software can automatically decide which email messages you want to receive and which messages you want to ignore. This process varies depending on the software you use to check your email.

Here, I’ll explain how to filter email messages with some of the most popular software: AOL, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, NetZero, Hotmail, and Yahoo.

Enabling Filters Using AOL 8.0 Plus

AOL has a feature called Mail Controls. You can use this feature to filter email, as follows:

  1. Access the Mail Controls by logging in to AOL with your master screen name (the first screen name you created when you joined AOL, if you have more than one) and go to your email inbox in AOL.
  2. Click Mail Options (located at the top of the screen) and select Block Unwanted Mail.
  3. You will see that AOL offers three options: Allow all email to be delivered to this Screen Name, Block all email from being delivered to this Screen Name, and CustomizeMail Controls for this Screen Name. Select Customize and click Next.
  4. In the screen that appears, you can choose to block email from entire Internet domain names or specify individual email addresses. You can also choose to block email containing files or pictures. If you constantly receive pornographic advertisements, choosing to block pictures will prevent those images from being displayed. Blocking files prevents the possibility of having your computer infected by a virus. However, enabling this option means legitimate files and pictures will be inaccessible to you. Once you have finished making your selections, click Summary, and then click Save.

For additional information, click the Mail Controls Help button at the top of the Mail Controls screen. You can also call AOL technical support to get answers to any questions you may have concerning this feature.

Enabling Filters Using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express

Microsoft likes to refer to its mail filters as rules. You can configure the email rules in a number of different ways. Microsoft Outlook is a feature-rich version of Outlook Express that is included with Microsoft Office. Microsoft Outlook Express is included free with all versions of Windows.

Both products can sort or filter your email based on the sender, the subject, a specific word anywhere in the message, or numerous other possibilities. Since all Windows users have Outlook Express and because Outlook operates in a very similar fashion, the following example uses Outlook Express.

If you want to send all email messages that contain the word Viagra in the subject of the message to the Deleted Items folder, follow these easy steps:

  1. Open Outlook Express.
  2. Click Tools, click Message Rules, then click Mail.
  3. Place a check in the box next to Where the Subject line contains specific words.
  4. Place a check in the box next to Move it to the specified folder.
  5. In the rule description, you will see underlined words. Clicking on these words allows you to enter the specific information about this new rule. Click once on contains specific words. In the dialog box that opens, type in Viagra and click the Add button. You can continue to add other words at this time if you choose. At this point, you are telling Outlook Express to apply this rule to any message that contains any one of the words you enter if found in the subject of the message. When you are finished, click OK.
  6. Next, click on specified and click the + symbol next to Folders to display all of your Outlook Express email folders. Select the Deleted Items folder and click OK
  7. Finally, the last step is to give the rule a name. We’ll call this one Delete Unwanted Mail. Just type that in, or any other name that you wish, and then click OK.

The window that appears will show you all of your rules, and by selecting any rule, the description window will show underlined words that will allow you to add or remove or modify the rules settings at any point in the future. Click OK to complete this task.

From now on, as new mail arrives, the filter will check the subject of all incoming email and send any messages containing the word Viagra immediately to your Deleted Items folder.

This process won’t solve your spam problems entirely, however. That’s because many spammers will misspell words on purpose. For the same reason, it’s probably a waste of your time to create a filter to automatically send unwanted email messages from specific senders to the Deleted Items folder because most spammers never use the same “from” address more than once.

You may have noticed that the option to Delete Item was available in the rules options. Selecting that box accomplishes the same goal; however, I chose to walk you through this process in a manner that will make you familiar with how the rules work.

You can create new folders and call them anything you wish and send specific messages from specific people or groups of people into those specific folders, effectively allowing Outlook or Outlook Express to sort your email for you automatically and not just spam.

For a more detailed tutorial on using the filter options in Outlook Express, start Outlook Express and press the F1 key on your keyboard. Type in the word rules. Click any of the related topics to learn how to configure email rules.

There is a free utility that integrates with the rules settings of Outlook and Outlook Express and automates the spam removal process. This software is called POPFile and was created by John Graham-Cumming. (John is a programmer who has the desire to help others and finances his work through donations.)

You can download this software, as well as find detailed instructions on how to install and configure it, at popfile.sourceforge.net.

Enabling Filters Using NetZero

The free version of NetZero does not have any email filter options. However, you can configureMicrosoft Outlook Express orMicrosoft Outlook to check your NetZero email. Then you can use the filtering techniques described in the previous section for Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Express. To learn how to configure Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express to check your NetZero email, visit www.netzero.net.

Enabling Filters Using Hotmail

To enable filters using Hotmail, after you’ve signed in to Hotmail, click Options at the top of the screen. Under the heading Mail Handling, there are several selfexplanatory options for controlling how your email is handled.

Alternatively, you can configure Hotmail to work with Microsoft Outlook Express and use the filter options available in Outlook Express. Because Hotmail does not use something called a POP3 server, the free POPFile software, which automates the spam-removal process for Outlook and Outlook Express, will not work with Hotmail.

Enabling Filters Using Yahoo

If you use Yahoo to check your email, you can filter email by following these steps:

  1. Sign in to your Yahoo email account and click Mail Options. This appears in two places on your screen: on the upper-right side and also on the lower-right side. Clicking either one will work equally well.
  2. In the center of the screen, under the heading Management, click the Filters link. Here, you can customize how you would like Yahoo to handle and direct your email.

I recommend reading the section titled Avoiding Spam, located under the Help link in the upper-right corner of the screen.