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Computer Care: Filtering out your electronic junk mail

POSTED: October 11, 2013 10:42 p.m.

Every afternoon when my mail gets delivered, I can’t help but notice how few junk letters I receive. I get a couple of bills, a magazine, the occasional package and maybe a solicitation from a local business or two. That’s it. A few years ago I got piles of paper every day. The bulk of junk mail today is sent electronically.

So now it’s my spam box that fills up daily. I can get 40 to 60 junk emails each day, but they go directly into my spam box. Without the defenses I have installed, there could be much more, demanding more of my attention each day.

There are various ways to cut down on your spam in your email inbox. It’s best to use filters, an email service or client that helps filter spam for you, and to use different accounts for different purposes.

Let’s start with the last one first. Your email address is precious. You shouldn’t give it out to anyone who asks. We all sign up for things: newsletters, sales flyers, sweepstakes and other things we come across online. The trick is to not use your real or your primary email address account for these purposes.

Create a throw-away or disposable email account that you only use for sign-ups, not for correspondences. An alternative to this is to use free websites that create these for you. Check out mailinator.com, guerrillamail.com, spamex.com or maildrop.cc (yes, cc).

There are others and most of these are free, but all will only keep your messages temporarily.

Some will retain them for a while — some a few hours, others only a few minutes — so be sure to check your accounts quickly for the response you may need.

On these sites, you create a temporary email address with the site’s domain and use that instead of your own for sign-ups.

You can also use your current email service to create a second or dummy account. If you use a Web-based email like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, just make another account the way you made your real one. Just don’t use it for email. Instead of you@gmail.com, make secondary account like you.temp@gmail.com.

Some domains (I also use Earthlink and Charter) will allow you to set up filters to help block your spam. You can block by keyword, content, name or domain. The last is what I commonly use. When I keep getting spam from joe@junk.com, then, bob@junk.com, and info@junk.com, I just block the domain.

They all come into my Gmail inbox, and it has its own set of filters. If you use Gmail, click on the “Settings” link on the right side of the page when you’re logged in, then click on “Filters.” From there you can control what comes in. You can also create your own filter with your own personalized rules.

Should something slip through, there is a button to click when spam finds its way to your inbox. It will allow you to report the message as spam and block it and also allow you to unsubscribe to the message (if it has a legitimate unsubscribe link).

Be aware, too, that when you do sign up for things that you want (using your primary account), uncheck the box that gives permission to send future emails about sales, events, etc.

There are also spam-fighting products you can purchase to install on your computer. Some of the better ones include SpamFighter Pro, Mailwasher Pro, iHateSpam and Spam Catcher. Each works differently and some are for email clients (like Outlook), others are designed for Web-based email (like att.net), while there are some will work on all systems.

Many anti-virus or anti-malware products come with add-ons for spam reduction. Contact the manufacturer of your product to see what they may offer.

If you are an AOL user, your spam filter is turned on by default. To configure it, click on “Options,” then “Settings,” just below your user name on the upper right of the screen. Click on “Spam Settings” and then find the drop-down menu next to “Spam Filter” and adjust it to your liking.

Go to the “Sender Filter” option if you need to block specific people from reaching your inbox.

You should not respond to any solicitations you get via email. When you do, the sender then knows it is a live account and will send yet more junk email.

By no means respond to emails that appear vague or suspicious in the subject line. Some may offer you money or jobs. Others may say something like, “RE: About your email,” trying to lure you into opening and responding to it. Do not.

Before trashing the contents of my spam folder, I always give it a quick look, just in case something ended up there that should have gone to my inbox. It’s a computer; it makes mistakes.

If you keep your primary email address private, use filters and aliases and don’t respond to vague solicitations, you can reduce the amount of junk mail that reaches your inbox.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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