Spam can be kept at bay with tools

August 28, 2005|By JAMES COATES

Q. Every day I receive one or two e-mails from some unknown address with a subject that is just meaningless words, and the body of the message is usually an ad for Viagra or other prescription meds or maybe a Rolex watch. I bounce and block each one I receive but they continue their daily barrage.

Is there anything more that I can do short of changing my address?

- Jan Olson,

A. Two words: white list. That rather indelicate term commonly refers to the little known but hugely useful tools in most e-mail software and Web e-mail services that let one isolate desired messages in special and spam-free folders.

You let all of the potency pill pushers and junk jewelry joints wallow in the so-called Inbox while you use a personally approved list to create your real Inbox, which will accept only the messages you want to see.


This simple strategy will bring peace at very little cost.

Like a great many e-mail users, your account works through a software-based system called POP mail (Post Office Protocol), and your fix is to create what are called rules for how your software handles each incoming message. The overwhelming majority of POP mail accounts use either Microsoft Outlook Express or the Outlook module in Microsoft Office, so let's focus there first, then move on to similar procedures available in other e-mail services.

When a POP mail message arrives from somebody you want to be admitted into your circle, click on the Message item in the Outlook Express toolbar and then select the option to create a rule based upon that person's message. The menu this triggers lets you specify that all notes from that sender be moved from the Inbox to a new folder, which you can create.

Give that folder a distinctive name like Real Inbox. Then with all desirable incoming messages, you simply click on Messages and make a rule to order messages from that particular sender to be moved to the Real Inbox instead of the un-vetted Inbox.

The routine is almost identical for users of Microsoft Outlook except that the message rule tool is accessed by giving the subject line of a message a right click instead of opening the Message toolbar.

The white list scheme has worked so well with formal e-mail software that most of the Web-based e-mail services have created similar functions. For example, people with free e-mail accounts at Yahoo can select a Mail Options tool at the top of the main display of e-mail messages and then create what are called Filters instead of rules that work exactly the same way.

Google's free service uses a system called Labels to let customers create customized inboxes.

Microsoft's and Web-based services use a streamlined scheme called Built Contacts to let users quickly go through a list of e-mail messages and check a box alongside each sender to be added to the list of acceptable sources.

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