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Q4021: How can I reduce the amount of junk e-mail I receive?

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Sun 08-Jun-2003 9:13pm -

The Problem

First of all, your e-mail address gets on these junk mail lists in many ways. One very common way is that there are programs that go out and harvest e-mail addresses from web sites. So if you have a web site and your e-mail address is on it, then you will indeed end up on the junk e-mail lists. As a web site developer, my e-mail address is on hundreds of web pages, so it's just a part of doing business that I will receive junk e-mail.

Another way for your e-mail address to get out there on these lists is when people send messages to everyone in their address book; quite often, they just put all those addresses on the "To" line or "Cc" line for everyone to see. Have you ever received one of these messages, where there is a long list of recipients and you can see your e-mail address in there with all the others? Well, when the sender does this, they are in effect distributing a list of all the e-mail addresses in their address book; that's not good at all. If someone is doing that to you, you may want to refer them to my web page that explains how to send an e-mail to a list of people, while maintaining their privacy.

Another common way for your e-mail address to get on these lists is when you sign up for e-mail newsletters or join mailing lists. The owners of these lists might be selling their list of subscribers to spammers.

So, the bottom line is that there is a problem. Some people suggest that you can just sign up for one of those free e-mail addresses (i.e. Hotmail), and then you can change that e-mail address periodically. If this works for you, great. I find that this type of solution only diverts the junk mail to another account, which you still have to sift through eventually; it does not actually reduce the amount of junk e-mail.


Reduce The Chances

One approach you can take is to try to reduce the chances of your e-mail address ending up on these junk lists. To do this, you have to understand how these spammers work.

If a company sends lots of junk e-mail (spam), then their business obviously depends on having a list of valid e-mail addresses (millions of them). If their e-mail list contains all invalid addresses, then they're out of business. So, when a spammer gets a list of e-mail addresses (via the methods described above in the Problem section), they need to figure out a way to verify that the addresses are valid. The simplest way to do this is to just send a message to each address, asking the recipient to reply. If they receive a reply, then of course that address is valid. It's quite simple.

So, my solution: DON'T REPLY! If you receive an e-mail and you don't know who it's from or why you received it, DON'T REPLY! This might be hard to do, but DON'T REPLY! You see, the problem the spammer has is "how can I get the recipient to reply?" They're not just going to come right out and say

"we've got this list of e-mail addresses that we need to verify for our spam list, please reply so that we know that your address is valid...

Nope, they are much more sneaky than that. They will try ANYTHING to get you to reply. Anything. What would you do if you received the following e-mail:

Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 17:55:29 -0500
From: <>
To: <>
Subject: Thanks For Lunch Mike


Thanks again for lunch it was great!

Best regards,


Would you reply to let Steve know that he accidentally sent his message to the wrong address? What if you receive the following message:

Date: Fri, 26 Oct 2001 03:34:45 -0300
Subject: Heather Pike

Hi Heather here, i was wondering if you could tell me what the best internet revenue programs are out there that i can link to? in other words "webmaster affiliate programs"

I have made the following money from theses sites so far this month. There is tons of these programs out their to choose from but takes a while to make money from them. If you can tell me which ones I could add to my list that you made good money from I would appreciate it. Thanks for your time, Heather. $ 795.95 $ 386.25 $ 298.50 $ 250.75 $ 159.87 $ 135.75 $ 112.95 $ 70.75 $ 68.95 $ 55.75

please email me at

If you've got a web site and you're trying to make money, would you reply to "Heather" and ask her how she made $795 from DON'T REPLY!

I'll give you one more example. What if you receive any piece of e-mail trying to sell you something (or get you to participate in something or inviting you to a seminar, etc.) and the message starts with:

Please note: We do not send email unsolicited. Your name was purchased as an opt in open minded person looking to make more money.

But, if you don't want any further information about this offer, please respond to this message by writing the word REMOVE in the subject.

Best regards.


Sounds friendly enough, eh? At least this person gives me a way to get removed from his list. DON'T REPLY!

All of the above examples are real e-mails that I've received. Believe me, they try anything. Don't get hooked. Don't believe them. DON'T REPLY!

Another common trick is to send you an e-mail telling you to go to a particular web site (for any reason). You figure, no big deal, what harm can there be in just visiting a web page. When you click the link in the e-mail message, it automatically takes you there. Well, it's very easy to setup a custom link for each recipient of their e-mail message. Therefore, when you click the link, they know that you've received their message, and your e-mail address is valid. So don't visit web sites mentioned in e-mails, unless you're familiar with the sender or the purpose of the message.


Ask Your ISP

Your ISP may have some solutions to help reduce spam. Remember that when someone sends you an e-mail, it does not go directly from their computer to yours. It actually goes from their computer, out to the internet through their ISP, to your ISP. It then sits in a mailbox on a computer at your ISP's office until you go online and download your incoming e-mail.

So, since all of your incoming e-mail literally goes through your ISP's computers, they may be able to offer a solution to help reduce your spam. And if they do, then it usually means that it is a solution that will require less work on your part (versus a solution where you handle everything on your computer). Therefore, I recommend trying whatever your ISP has to offer.


Just Handle It

On average, I receive about 611 e-mail messages every day.* Do the math. If I spend an average of only 1 minute reading and replying to to each message (some longer, some not), that would take up way too much of my time, every day, 7 days a week. Obviously, most of that e-mail is junk. So I ignore most of it. And here's how I do it.

First of all, I use Eudora Pro for my e-mail. Many people use Outlook or Outlook Express or some other popular program. Any good e-mail program will allow you to do what I do.

I use filters (AKA rules) to sort all of my incoming e-mail. I have one filter setup for every person I converse with by e-mail. If I start conversing with a new person, whether it's a personal contact or a new client or whoever, I create a new folder to hold all of their e-mail, and I create a filter that says if any message comes in from their address, put it in their folder. As I write this, I have over 400 filters defined. So, if a message comes in and does not meet the criteria of any of my filters, then it simply ends up in my general In box.

Therefore, I know that most of the messages in my general In box are junk. I say most because obviously, if I receive a valid message from a relative or a prospective client who has never e-mailed me before, it goes to my In box. So I can't simply trash everything in my In box. But I do know that 95% of everything in there is trash. And if I don't recognize who the message is from and if the subject line does not interest me, then I delete it without even opening it or reading the message. It's that simple. As I explained above, I just don't have time to read 611 incoming e-mails every day.

Remember that just because you receive an e-mail message doesn't mean you have to open it and read it. You are allowed to trash it without opening it.


Spam Filter Software

In April 2003, I started testing a spam filter program called SpamAssassin. So far, it's working well. It's installed on the server where my e-mail is hosted. So if you want to use it, you'd have to contact your ISP and see if they offer it. Suffice it to say that I will continue to use and test it, and I'll probably add more info about it here in the future.

There are also some other software programs that you can install on your computer to handle spam. I have not used any of these, so I can't recommend them. But based on recommendations I've read, they seem to do the job well:

PCWorld has a feature in their May 2003 issue called Natural-Born Spam Killers. Perhaps you will find that interesting.


Other Resources


* My average daily incoming e-mail count increases every month. In July 2002, it was 140. In April 2003, it was up to 611.

Tue 10-Jun-2003 CST
Scott Crevier • De Pere, Wisconsin, USACopyright © 2016
Scott Crevier