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

Those are CAPTCHA tests are to prove that you are a real human and not an automated computer trying to send spam, but it shouldn't happen on every email.

Why does about every third email I send require me to type in stupid letters that run together and aren't legible? If I opt for audio, there's no audio. This is a ridiculous time waster when I need to be in contact with various secretaries in various villages.

In this excerpt from Answercast #51, I take a look at those hard-to-read letters that websites throw at you in attempts to reduce spam.

Testing for "human"

What you're referring to as those "stupid letters" are what's called a CAPTCHA test.

The point of a CAPTCHA is to determine that you are in fact a human and not another computer trying to send spam. The point is that computers are basically unable to (at this point in time) decipher that semi-indecipherable text, whereas in most cases humans are.

By determining that you can interpret those letters, you are proving to the system that you are, in fact, a real person, and not a computer trying to abuse the system.

Now, the problem here is why is it happening so often; and it really shouldn't.

You email program

For whatever reason, the system, (you haven't indicated what email program you're using so I can't really make a guess) but whatever system you're using, for some reason, thinks your connection or your activity is somehow suspicious. Whatever that might be.

I know that you don't consider it suspicious. But it may be that some combination of factors, everything from your location to the words that you use to the timing that you're using to all sorts of different things could be flags to the system that says, "You know what? We should probably confirm that this person really is real and not someone trying to abuse the system."

That's when they throw a CAPTCHA test at you to prove that you're human.

Change your email interface

So, the easiest way to get around this problem is not to use the web interface. Again, I don't know what email service you're using, but what you could do instead is to use a program like Thunderbird.

Install that on your PC; use that; configure that to actually send and receive the email to and from this account that you have. That way, that interface is not subject to this kind of computer/human test. It's probably the best way to get around it.

Contact your service

The other thing, I suppose, would be to ask the service if they have any guidelines as to why they might be throwing this up so frequently.

My guess is that they won't tell you. It's not because they don't want to. It's because whenever they expose the algorithm behind their decisions, they are, in fact, making it easier for spammers to work around them.

So by answering your question, by being public about why they do what they do, they are providing information to spammers that then allows them to work around those limitations, and in fact, send more spam.

So other than simply putting up with it or perhaps switching to a different email service, the best thing I can suggest for you to do is to:

  • Go ahead and download another email program like Thunderbird or Outlook or any of a number of others and

  • Use that to send and receive your email instead of your email service's web interface.

End of Answercast #51 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C5796 - September 10, 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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7 Comments
anon emouse
September 11, 2012 10:34 AM

I had that problem with one of my several hotmail accounts.

Contacted them and after several back and forth w-mails, they finally figured out Whit I was complaining about.

They then fixed it by changing something in THEIR settings.

The CAPTCHA went away.

Jack Ragan
September 11, 2012 10:36 AM

CAPTCHA
I have had retina-peal surgery on both eyes that was unsuccessful and my hearing is not all that great. I have a good deal of trouble finding a Captcha I can read - and it is impossible for me to make out what they are saying. I complain to the company but I have never received an acknowledgment from them at any time. I suppose I must live with my physical disabilities. I see no hope for me or a real reason for them to change just to accommodate one person.

By the way, I must close my left eye to read anything because of the confusion between the malfunction of both eyes - but I am not complaining - I could be blind.

Jack

Tom
September 11, 2012 11:45 AM

Hi,

I get a lot of "funnies" from colleagues, family and friends and, when I used Yahoo! to forward these, I started getting these CAPTCHA messages with every funny I forwarded.

I've since changed to gmail, still receiving and still forwarding funnies, with not a hint of CAPTCHA appearing.

Take Leo's advise and change your e-mail provider.

Strydrdenis
September 11, 2012 12:51 PM

I have eye problems myself and I find if I use the built in Magnifier in Windows it makes it easier to read those darn Captcha's. Hope this might help you.

K.Vee.Shanker.
September 12, 2012 1:05 AM

Captchas are real pain for users. It is understandable that sites want to avoid spamming. But that doesn't mean they have to make it so hard. Many use overlapping, bent letters and indulge in black and white tricks to make it really hard even for humans to decipher. Some sites use an equation to answer. This method is easy on the users. Any security measure has to accommodate for layman. Otherwise, it is just a turn off!

Duane
September 12, 2012 10:36 AM

I delete then.
Ì don,t need the aggravation. Have not missed anything important todate . D V

BaliRob
September 14, 2012 10:06 AM

It is not a matter of not being able to see them - very often they are illegible. Most, comprising a sequence of two words, one of which will be perfectly obvious and the other a blurred mess. This system has been devised by a child with a mental disorder. Strangely, by coincidence, today I was asked to tick a box to show that I was a human and not spammer - now that's what I call sensible and have no objection to doing that all of the time.

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