How To Avoid Drowning In Spam

A five-step process for filtering e-mail.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 5/17/2003; LawLawLaw Newsletter; Clock Tower Law Group

A colleague just mentioned that she is changing e-mail addresses because she was drowning in spam. I receive about 50 pieces of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE) (or spam) per day, and it takes a lot of time to weed through. I use Eudora 5.2 for reading e-mail and have developed a five-step process (or, more specifically, five categories of filters, performed in the following order) for filtering my e-mail to help me cope with spam.

  1. Check all incoming e-mail for keywords (such as “patent” or “trademark”) and label those messages BLUE.
  2. Check all incoming e-mail for indicia of spam and change the label of those messages to BROWN. There are only about 100 of these filter rules, and I focus on the subject of incoming messages. Since spammers usually use HTML-formatted text (including such tricks as hidden text and borderless tables) in the body of e-mail messages, it’s difficult to create reliable filters based on text strings that appear in the body of e-mail messages. E-mail headers such as the “Subject” header, on the other hand, are transmitted as unformatted text. For example, a friend noticed that if there are four uppercase letters in a row in the subject of your e-mail message, then the message is very likely spam.
  3. Transfer all recurring e-mail (such as mailing lists and receipts) into separate mailboxes. For example, all e-mail with “LawLawLaw” in the subject gets sent to a mailbox called lawlawlaw.mbx.
  4. Check the “from” addresses for people I know and transfer those messages to a separate mailbox.
  5. Transfer e-mail sent “to” or “cc” my e-mail addresses to separate mailboxes. Many bulk mailers hide your e-mail address, so if it’s not “to” or “cc” to you, it may be spam. This is why I don’t use “bcc” very often for sending e-mail, and if you do, then your e-mail may look like spam.

All mail that is NOT caught by one of these filters ends up in my generic inbox, and most of that is spam. Most of the BLUE e-mail is not spam. Most of the BROWN e-mail is. Also, according to the Center for Democracy & Technology, most spam comes from e-mail addresses posted on public websites (http://www.cdt.org/speech/spam/030319spamreport.shtml), so if you post your e-mail address on your website, you will eventually get spam.

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