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

Spam happens, and sometimes it really looks bad. The best way to protect yourself is to learn how to use your spam and junk filters effectively.

Hi, Leo. I have a Hotmail address and for months now I'm getting disgusting emails from some kind of site. I've tried to block them but different names come forward all the time. I do not want these disgusting words on my computer. I tried Spam Cop but it didn't transfer across to them. I'm not very computer literate. I emailed them back and tell them they are being charged for stalking and harassment of my email address. Can you help please? I don't know where they got my address from and it looks disgusting on my emails when they put their little notes in with attachments, which I do not open. I thought I should change my email address but I don't know how to do that. Thanks a lot for any help.

In this excerpt from Answercast #31, I look (again) at the rash of spam on the internet and a few techniques that can help you live with it.

Horrible emails

What you are getting is unfortunately run of the mill spam.

  • Replying to them is the absolute worst thing you can do.

The only thing replying to them does is it confirms to them that the email address they were using to reach you is a valid email address – with somebody at the receiving end. That means they are more likely to send you more spam, not less.

They are clearly going to ignore anything you might say, any threats that you might include, because they don't care. They don't have to.

There's a very good chance that they are overseas. You can, I suppose, charge them with stalking and harassment – but if they're overseas, they're probably not even subject to our laws. In fact, this is such a common problem that you'd be very hard pressed to find any law enforcement agency to even take this on.

Change your email

Changing your email address isn't going to help anything really. You probably won't get spam for a while, but it will accumulate again.

Spam happens.

Everybody gets spam. Much of it is pornographic and that's just an unfortunate side effect of exactly how the internet is working today.

The thing to do is:

  • In your email program, or in your Hotmail user interface, make sure (when you receive a message like this in your inbox) to use the "Mark as spam" or "Mark as junk" controls.

That will tell your email program that "Messages that look like this..."

  • I think those are spam,

  • I don't want to see them.

Now, it won't happen immediately; but if you mark enough of those messages as spam, eventually the system will learn that to you, these kinds of messages are spam. Instead of delivering them to your inbox, those messages will get delivered to your junk mail folder or your spam folder. You won't have to look at them there.

There's no way to stop receiving them. You can, with spam filters, do a better job of having the system automatically filter them out and throw them into a folder.

Checking spam

Now, unfortunately, occasionally, a legitimate mail gets filtered as spam. So, it is possible that you may need to look at the contents of your junk or spam folders occasionally just to see if there's some email in there that isn't spam. Something may mistakenly be marked as spam and then you would, of course, select that message and tell the system that it's not spam or it's not junk.

But the important thing is that you can effectively get the day-to-day receipt of spam to be automatically filtered into a junk folder simply by using the tools that are already at your disposal. Replying to senders, threatening senders, are absolutely the worst thing you can do. It (at best) simply means you're going to get more mail, more junk. At worst, you could get a LOT more junk.

Article C5536 - July 2, 2012 « »

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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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9 Comments
Gil
July 3, 2012 8:49 AM

I like the article on blocking SPAM, but I've found that my attempts to block SPAM in Outlook 2010 no longer works. I get the same or different SPAM from many of the same senders. Blocking them seems to be ignored and I mark them as SPAM over and over again. No settings have been changed in Outlook 2010 - at least not by me and I'm the only user of this computer.

Any suggestions?

bill
July 3, 2012 9:19 AM

re: changing your email address

It can help but can be quite a bit of work to get everyone to start using your new one. You may have to have parallel addresses for a while.

The other thing is that a lot of spam is due to actions on the part of the users. If you go to sites and happily type in your address without really thinking about the reputability of the site, you may have been their source of the address.
I have a friend that was looking at a change of career and went to a number of "job" sites some of which looked iffy to me but she "registered" on them and almost instantly went to an average of 40 spam a day.
I have been using the same address for 5-7 years and get a fraction of that in spite of my address being out on the web in many places.
If you change your address, try to be sure that you will not give out your address to people that you don't have reasonable trust in.

If you change your address, I would consider going to Google mail. They have a wonderful spam filter that adjusts itself to catch the spam and few good posts.

If Hotmail allows a mail reader to download the messages, Google mail has a feature that lets you use it to read the Hotmail, run it through the gmail spam filter, then give it to you along with the mail to your new address. Said friend that gets 40 spam a day is doing that with her old address (locked to her ISP) and almost none of the spam comes through.

After you determine that no one important is using your old address (you can see it in the messages that gmail is giving you), then you can kill off the old account (or leave it inactive and not read so that a spammer cannot take control of your old address).

When I did this, I also purchased a domain to use for my email so that I am not required to use any particular service. I am very happy with gmail but if I ever had a problem with them, I can move my address to someone better without having to tell anyone about an address change.

David
July 3, 2012 10:19 AM

Don't want spam? Use Mozilla Thunderbird as your email client. Thunderbird has a superior built-in spam filter.

James
July 3, 2012 11:48 AM

I have a Yahoo! email address that I use whenever a website requires a valid email address. So I know that 99% of the email there is spam.

Additionally, rather than blocking senders, I use Thunderbird and created a filter that basically says, if the sender is not in my address book then send the mail to my Junk folder.

This of course means that I periodically have to check my Junk for legitimate mail, but that shouldn't be too often because if I sign up for a legitimate mailing list, or meet a new friend, etc. I add the sender email address to my address book so subsequent emails end up in my Inbox.

Mark J
July 3, 2012 12:38 PM

@Gil
Unfortunately, in this case, the best suggestion may simply be: do what you can and learn to live with it.

Woody
July 3, 2012 4:48 PM

Regarding SPAM I use a JohnDoe@email address to subscribe to all new sites. If it provides to be good, and I like it, I register my main email and continue to get the emails there. If it is not a site I wish to continue, I unsubscribe and that usually gets around some of these problems.

Eric Brightwell
July 5, 2012 3:40 AM

The solution is simple - don't ever give your root email address to anyone. Instead give one of your alternate email addresses to each category of contact. So use one for friends, one for trusted business contacts, one for internet sites that you trust, one each for key sites such as bank and paypal etc, and a number of disposable addresses for all other sites and contacts requiring a vaild email address. It sounds complicated, but if you direct all of the incoming mail into one mailbox with colour coded flags, then it really is very easy. If any of your alternate addresses is compromised then you delete it and create a new one
I happen to use BT Yahoo mail, but any other decent mail provider should offer the same facility.

carmen
July 5, 2012 9:54 AM

Even though it is a "bit" of work, I would suggest getting a new e-mail address anyway...email accounts are easy to set up and I think it would at least make you FEEL like you're starting with a clean slate. I would strongly suggest getting an email account that is NOT HOTMAIL. I have several email accounts, and Hotmail is by far one of the worst in terms of spam. I get the LEAST amount of spam with GMail, but I'm not a big fan of it :). No matter what you choose, you will get spam, but if you follow Leo's advice about marking it as spam, using the program's filter, and NOT replying to spam, you'll see the junk will soon be redirected and out of your way. I would suggest setting up about 4 different email accounts (I think there are suggestions above...maybe use bogus info) just to get the feel of them, then if you find one you like, set up an account and slowly transition your contacts to the new email until you feel comfortable closing the old one (It's possible Hotmail will disable the account for you if it's inactive, but I don't know if they still do that).
Good luck.

Mike
July 7, 2012 6:53 PM

I hardly get any spam on the accounts I use for Hotmail. Maybe 1 or 2 every 2-3 weeks. Never just give away your email address. If you must or need to, research and make sure any site you give it to is very reputable. I've given out mine many times but I've made sure I can trust them to a high degree. For example, I've given mine to Ask Leo because I can trust them to a high degree. Like Leo said, you'll never completely stop spam. But you can limit it.

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