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How I Manage Spam Email

by Gavin Hoole
(Cape Town, South Africa)

I have never installed anti-spam software, either free or paid-for. Yet I get zero spam in my mailbox at my ISP or onto my computer. This is how I do it. See if this approach would suit your own situation.

My situation

For a shorter version, click here; otherwise, read on.

My primary e-mail account is with my Internet Service Provider (ISP). The e-mail client I use since the demise of my beloved Eudora is Mozilla Thunderbird1.

When I receive legitimate e-mail that I wish to keep, I download it from my ISP mail server, using Thunderbird to do so. It is thus stored on my computer and accessible to me when I am offline. My important stored e-mails date back several years.

I now have only one e-mail address with my ISP. I keep that address highly secret so that no one else ever sees it or uses it, not even my family. (I'll explain this shortly.)

I have numerous other e-mail addresses for personal and business purposes. Some are related to websites I own, like this site. Others are with a mail forwarding service, and some are webmail accounts such as Gmail, and ICQMail from the 'old days'.

I have Gmail Notifier2 installed on my Taskbar to alert me every time new mail has arrived at my Gmail IN box. And I use POP Peeper to do the same for all my other e-mail addresses, plus some addresses I manage for friends of mine.

My e-mail 'sorting' situation

My e-mail addresses are set to forward all incoming mail to my webmail address at Gmail. So Gmail is the first port of call that all my incoming mail lands at. For me, Gmail functions something like a postal sorting station from where mail is automatically delivered in various ways according to my needs.

My primary reason for doing this is that Gmail has an excellent spam filter based on their own vast knowledge-bank and the spam reporting of millions of Gmail users worldwide. And it has mammoth storage space. I can also set it up to send mail as if it comes from any of my other e-mail addresses besides from my Gmail address itself. It has a whole host of other features too. It's a great free service.

How the mail is handled

Spam: When new mail arrives at Gmail, if Gmail considers it to be spam, it sends it straight to the Gmail Spam box. Gmail seems to be 99%-plus accurate in this regard.

Filters: I have created filters at Gmail as follows.

Approved senders: Mail that I want sent to my ISP mail server, to be downloaded using Thunderbird, is filtered to be forwarded to my secret e-mail address that only I know.

Setting up a Gmail filter:Gmail allows 20 filters for forwarding mail. As I have more that 20 'approved senders' whose mail I want forwarded to my ISP, I simply add a number of them to one filter. (To do this, I type the senders' e-mail addresses into the From box in the filter set-up, with each address separated by a space and the word OR and a space -- e.g. john@domainname.com OR pinkpanther@domainname.net OR bartsimpson@universal.org and so on.

If I want to include all possible senders from a particular domain name (e.g. anyone from my publisher's domain) I omit the senders' names and just type one entry such as @mypublishers.com. Gmail's Help says you must enclose the whole list within brackets at the beginning and end. But I notice that Gmail now does that automatically, so I don't include brackets.)

Jokes and funny video files: Mail from friends who regularly send large attachments (like jokes or videos of Britain's Got Talent, etc.) is set to bypass the IN box at Gmail and go straight to Archives. It does not get forwarded to my secret address at my ISP. So I don't pay for bandwidth for those huge files unless I choose to open them in Gmail. (Because that mail does not come to my ISP mail server, it doesn't automatically get downloaded when I collect important e-mail.) When I have the time and the inclination, I will click on Gmail's All mail link to see what jokes look interesting enough to open, or which attachments are not too large that they will blow my remaining bandwidth allocation for the month.

Other mail: All other mail goes to my IN box at Gmail. Google now has a feature called Priority Inbox to which Gmail will send the mail you want to read as a priority. Other mail gets displayed as Everything else, unless you have filtered it to bypass the Inbox altogether.

The result is as follows

Only non-spam mail from a pre-approved sender gets through to my ISP mail box. No spam mail gets through -- zero, nil, nada, bugger-all.

Non-spam mail from other senders who are not filtered to come to my ISP mail box is still available for reading at Gmail. If I want a new sender's mail to come to my ISP mail box in future (e.g. business, new contacts, etc.), I create a filter so that Gmail will in future automatically forward all that sender's mail to my secret address at my ISP and keep a copy in the Gmail IN box. (I have found this useful at times, especially when the ISP mail server is experiencing problems. I can access a copy that is already sitting at Gmail if I need it in a hurry.)

Spam mail: Mail detected by Gmail to be spam is automatically sent to the Gmail Spam box. I can check there to make sure it is in fact all spam mail. If there is something there that is not spam, I can click on the Not spam button to move it to the Gmail IN box. I can leave the other spam in the Spam box until Gmail deletes it automatically some days later; or I can click on the Delete Forever button to get rid of it immediately, which is usually what I do.

These days I find that not much mail gets to the Gmail Spam box anyway. Perhaps Gmail has a back-office spam check that rejects known spam before it even gets to the user; who knows. But it is now much less than it used to be in the past.

My other preferences

Sending and Receiving mail: My Thunderbird is set to check for mail only when I click on the Check Mail button - i.e. when I choose to do so. It does not check for new mail according to any schedule - because I don't want it to. It sends mail separately from checking, and only when I choose to send the mail. That way I manage my own e-mail activity rather than have something like Outlook/Express or Windows Live Mail doing a Send and Receive or Sync every time I go online. That would drive me nuts.

Checking several mail accounts simultaneously: POP Peeper can check several e-mail accounts simultaneously, such as ICQMail, Gmail, Yahoo, Mail.com, Hotmail, LiveMail, and more. And it can do so according to a schedule, or when I manually do it - according to how I have set it up (which happens to me every 10 minutes).

So, I have set POP Peeper3 to do that for my own mail account as well as for people whose mail I manage. If there's new mail displayed in POP Peeper that I want to read and delete without downloading and storing it, then I click on the Delete button and POP Peeper will delete that item from the mail server the next time it checks for mail, or there-and-then if I click on the Check Mail button in POP Peeper.

Like Thunderbird and Gmail, POP Peeper is free and has given me no hassles at all (even when I had Windows Vista installed! LOL).


Anyway, that's the system I use. It works for me! It's all free and involves very little work once it is set up. Compare it with other people's suggestions and decide what will work best for you. :-)

I'm no anti-spam expert and would love to hear some fresh ideas from others. If there's a better way, please do tell. :-)

Referenced links:
1. Mozilla Thunderbird
2. GMail Notifier
3. POP Peeper

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You Have Your Spam Under Control
by: Romy Macias


I quickly read through your post. It looks like you have little to no spam in your Inbox. I mostly use Yahoo and Gmail, which you're right, Gmail has a pretty accurate spam filter.

What I do is that I try to devote Saturday mornings (an hour or so) to cleaning out my yahoo account from spam emails. I'm sure I can find a more efficient way of avoiding spam instead of managing it. But for now, this is how I've handled it.

Thanks for your detailed explanation. I look forward to what other readers have to share.


Quick And Free Spam Removal
by: Gavin

Thanks Romy. I check my Gmail spam box when I log in. I quickly scan through the few spam mails to make sure there's no non-spam there. I then click Select All and Delete Forever and they're all gone - pow!. It takes less than half a minute a day; and it's kept up to date. :-)

Thanks for sharing
by: Devin Iyer

Hi Gavin,

I found your article through a web search - obviously beacuse I'm experincing spam hell!! With 50-100 spam a day, I was wondering whether to change my email address or find another solution. It seems you have a very viable solution here, so thank you for sharing.

I wonder if your solution will work if I still use Outlook instead of Eudora.

This plan does seem a bit elaborate, but I guess I have an elaborate spam problem on my hands!! I'm going to research a bit more, and if I put your suggestion into use, I'll be sure to leave some feedback here.

Thanks again .. Devin

Spam Mail Solution in a Nutshell
by: Gavin, Unlock-Your-Happiness.com

Using Gmail as a highly effective spam filter is actually quite simple. The basis of it all is to have all your mail routed to Gmail. That's the starting point.

You can do this either by telling everyone that they should from now on use your Gmail account; or you can get an e-mail address that forwards incoming mail to your Gmail account without storing it. (Perhaps your ISP can do this?)

So, instead of managing spam filters on your e-mail program located on your hard drive, which you have to keep updating as new spam arrives (when it is already in your IN box), you let Gmail do all of that for you, on their servers. Then all you need to do is set filters at Gmail for mail from senders you definitely want coming to your (secret) e-mail address at your ISP. That's it. The rest can stay at Gmail.

Yes, you will need to change your e-mail address once you've set this up, and tell all your bona fide Contacts to use that address in future. And you'll need to tell your ISP to give you a new alias, the name of which you can decide, and to delete your old address/alias. You would use the new alias as your secret e-mail address and the one that Gmail forwards approved non-spam mail to (at your ISP).

Gmail has millions of users, so their spam filtering has to be better than one located on your computer.

Devin, thank you for your comments. I must really learn to be more brief in future! :-)

Gmail On Your Hard Drive
by: Gavin, Unlock Your Happiness.com

Here's something else about Gmail that will make a lot of people happy, I'm sure.

Gmail has a feature that can turn it into an offline e-mail client, for all intents and purposes. This can be useful as a means for giving a superb spam filtering system while at the same time being able to have your webmail e-mails on your hard drive.

For those who aren't yet aware of this, here's how it works.

You can set things up so that Gmail syncs to your computer and you have a duplicate (of what's online at Gmail) sitting on your computer. So, when you are OFFline, you can read your e-mails and write e-mails and send them to Drafts. When you go online again, Gmail does a 'sync' to send those e-mails to their recipients, and also to download any new ones to your computer.

You can choose whether or not you want attachments downloaded to your hard drive in the syncing process. I am testing this now, and for my own needs I have elected not to download attachments as I don't want all those funny and feel-good videos and stuff on my computer and using up my paid-for bandwidth as they download. (I prefer to do that in Gmail while online, so I can choose which attachments to open, and which to delete before they chow up my bandwidth with my ISP.

To check it out, in Gmail, click on Settings (top right) >> Offline. There's a small plug-in that must be installed. While offline, you then 'log in' via the URL given, and you can read your Gmail offline in your browser.

This is surely more happy news for many who are bothered by spam mail stress.

Spam Controls
by: Charlie

When I go into my spam control content filter, I can type in additional words to block. I click "Save" and go back to see if the words are there, but they are gone. What is happening. My email is ddiribbons at aol dot com (to be used in in the normal address formatting). [Edited by webmaster to reduce risk of spambots grabbing the e-mail address.]

Could someone help me?

Spam Controls
by: Gavin, Unlock Your Happiness.com

Charlie, are you talking about Gmail or AOL?

I am not familiar with AOL but if it is AOL you're referring to, I will use twitter to try and get a response from someone who knows. let me know.

By the way, putting your e-mail address on any Web page is a give-away to the spam robots. So I have edited it accordingly.

Great information!
by: Nerissa

This information is very helpful and full of details.

I am now interested to view your Blogs 'n Stuff.

Nerissa in Ohio, USA

Thanks Nerissa
by: Gavin, Unlock Your Happiness.com

Thank you for your comments, Nerissa.

I hope you find something else of interest on this site too.

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