Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Stopping spam is essentially an impossible task. We'll look at the steps you should be taking to stem the tide and stay sane.

Is there anything that can be done about the myriad of e-mails from " Nigeria, England, the FBI, etc., that want to give me millions to answer their e-mail? With my email all I can do is to mark then as "block sender" but this seems to be ineffective. I wish there was an address I could forward them to and let someone else have the "enjoyment" of reading them. Naturally, I don't answer them or click on the attachments. I just wish I could stop them.

Your question really boils down to "how do I stop spam?"

If there were an easy answer to that spam would no longer be the scourge that it is.

So, no, you can't stop them.

But there are things you can, and should, do.

Block Sender Ineffective

I wouldn't bother blocking the sender. As you've seen, it doesn't work.

The "Block Sender" feature only works on the "From:" line and the sender - that "From:" address on the email - is typically fake and random. Rarely do multiple copies of the email come from the same address.

Typically, in the body of the message you'll find that there's some other way to contact the scammer should you want to. Even then, there are so many of these scammers that this account or contact method also changes over time.

Mark As Spam Marginally Effective

If your email service or program has a "Junk", "Mark as Spam" or other reporting option, that's the thing to use.

"I find that spending a lot of time worrying about or even thinking about spam ... is simply wasted effort"

On a PC based email program that "mark as spam" may boil down to nothing more than "block sender", which will continue to be ineffective for all the reasons I've already mentioned.

However, some email programs actually analyze the email's contents and use that to build a database of "things that look like spam". Thus at some point after having marked some number of copies of this scam as spam, your email program will effectively say "things that look like this are spam, so I'll just automatically filter it to the spam folder". That at least keeps it out of your inbox.

Email services that have a spam reporting mechanism work the same way, except they're taking reports from all their users to determine what "looks like" spam.

The downside is that it's still a guessing game. These spam filters can get it wrong, allowing spam through, or incorrectly blocking legitimate mail.

And of course spammers know that these tools are being used and try hard to work around them.

Forwarding Spam

Yes, there are a couple of email addresses you can forward spam to so as to report it to authorities. Personally, I consider it a complete waste of time. Particularly when it comes to the scams that you mention these agencies have plenty of data. The issue is not that they don't know about the scams, the issue is tracking the scammers down, particularly when they're overseas in countries with questionable internet regulation.

Sometimes there's just nothing the authorities can do either. When you do hear of massive spammer busts it is typically based on a lot of research that the agencies have done themselves, not on individual emails that you or I might forward to them.

What To Do

My approach to scams, and spam in general is very simple:

  • Use the "Junk" or "This is Spam" buttons in your email program if they are available. (But only for actual spam - it's not a lazy way to unsubscribe from emails you requested.)

  • Use the delete key liberally.

  • Get on with your life.

I find that spending a lot of time worrying about or even thinking about spam that makes it through assorted spam filters already in place is simply wasted effort.

Mark it. Delete it. Move on.

Article C4474 - October 1, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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12 Comments
MARTY
October 5, 2010 9:55 AM

I GET THESE ALL THE TIME AND I FORWARD THEM TO ic1@gov and the fbi

Frank Golden
October 5, 2010 10:13 AM

Thunderbird thinks Ask Leo! is a scam.

Which annoys me no end. This article discusses (and uses the newsletter as an example): Why does my email program think that this message might be a scam?
Leo
07-Oct-2010

Lee I.
October 5, 2010 10:45 AM

For the past week or more, I've been receiving about 20 spam emails a day of 200 KB each. (Thank goodness I was finally able to get off dialup.) I've only looked at the header info, never opened them, but it's rarely changed, many pages of gibberish, and no clue what the real message of the email is. They change domain names once to twice a day. Karen's WhoIs can't identify where these come from. I hate having these big files clogging up my other spam. ;) I enter the domain name in WLM blocked senders each time it changes. Is there anything that can done about such a persistent and large offender? I'm willing to try the forwarding address that you didn't include.

Roger Clark
October 5, 2010 12:22 PM

I got an email gatekeeper several years ago and it works great and it is free. It is called "Steven". It takes about 5 minutes to set it up the first time with preferences and then it works great. It basically blocks everyone except those that you choose not to block. It sends all new senders a request to simply "reply" and it will pass the email to your regular email client. Since most spammers are machines, they can't react to the request so they get blocked. Senders who also find they need to "add a comment in the reply" get blocked also because they did not follow directions. Of course all incoming emails are saved in queue so you can check to see if you want to let anything in. There are "whitelists" and "blacklists" and you can modify them at your leisure. I have had this for almost 10 years now and really like it.

Ron
October 5, 2010 12:57 PM

You can use a program such as MailWasher (free and paid versions)that allows you to see header and content info from the server and delete what you don't want to download with your email client. There is a very effective spam filter function that pre-selects emails for deletion.

Mike
October 5, 2010 2:26 PM

Change your email address, then make sure you don't make the new email address easily available. If you put an email contact on your Web site, obfuscate it (Google it). Don't subscribe to mailing lists if they make the email address available to non-subscribers (e.g. in the archives). For dubious applications, use a temporary, easily changed, address which automatically forwards to your permanent address. I did all this several years ago, and now get about 1 spam email per day, without any filtering.

Charles Adler
October 5, 2010 5:22 PM

MailWasher is the best answer I've found. Once this program has "learned" what spam you recieve the spam disappears forever from your view. Highly recommend it.

BILL DANIEL
October 5, 2010 8:10 PM

Since I switched to Gmail, i receive NO spam in my Inbox (spam goes into the SPAM folder). Google does a GREAT job with their web mail client, which is POP and IMAP compatible . On the contrary, I have a Yahoo.com email account that I rarely use because it gets so much spam.

Alan Byron
October 7, 2010 3:08 AM

With hotmail.co.uk I get about 10-15 spams a day, some with laughable pathos ridden messages promising almost always 30million dollars, and the rest from Drug sales promising to remake a 'real' man of me. Since I switched to Orange.fr I get no spam. There is orange.co.uk I guess. What I do is quickly read down the junk folder and recognise at a glance the usual rubbish, filter out any genuine messages that slip thru, and then simply empty the entire folder.

Chris Marlowe
October 9, 2010 7:15 AM

My employer asks us to forward spam to Postini. Postini does not prosecute spammers, but uses the reports to refine the spam filters they apply to our computers. since we started using this software product, I have noticed a reduction in spam traffic of at least 80%. that sounds good to me.

Alex Dow
October 9, 2010 11:50 PM

Similar to one of the other contributors, I use orange.co.uk, which identifies likely spam messages and places them in a JUNK (meaning SPAM!) Folder.

Under UK law, those spam messages must be passed on to the intended recipient - only those with viruses and similar can be "destroyed" by the ISP, in line with the general physical post/mail in the UK.

A (now very) quick review of the contents of the JUNK folder to reassure myself that there are no genuine messages, then I delete them, using the "My Settings" facility.

This has to be done twice, once to move them en-bloc from the JUNK folder to the DELETED Folder - the latter can be arranged to either delete them automatically immediately; or automatically after a period of days or when I choose to do so.

This morning, 245 JUNK/SPAM messages had accummulated in 12 hours overnight; and were disposed of in about 10 seconds.

Any mail "deleted" from any other folder, the INBOX particularly, goes straight to the DELETED folder, hence my not having the "Immediate Delete" working.

This allows me to recover those genuine mails which I may accidentally "delete" - my INBOX about 5 days back!

Via "My Settings", any of the email Folders/Directories can be EMPTY(ed) by a single action, first going to the DELETED folder, then again that can be EMPTY(ed) by another single action.

The usual story, describing the actions is more difficult and lengthy than doing them.

There are also "White List" and "Black List" facilities, which will handle both full email addresses and Domain Names, the latter requiring the "@" sign eg "@orange.fr".

If I identify any new messages as being SPAM for possible addition to the Orange Filtering and Identification system, there is a facility to add that Sender to the BLACK List if I so wish.

I have been using those facilities for about 5 years; and to date, I am happy with them.

Frank
October 21, 2010 9:33 AM

The only real solution is a small fee for every single email sent. That, of course, will never happen.

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