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Filtering Junk E-Mail in Outlook 2003

In 2003, a dubious milestone in the history of e-mail was achieved — more junk e-mail messages were sent over the Internet than legitimate ones. It's now safe to assume that if you get e-mail, you get junk e-mail, also known as spam. Outlook 2003 includes a filtering system that looks over all your incoming mail and automatically moves anything that looks like junk e-mail to a special folder. You can delete everything that gets moved to your Junk E-Mail folder now and again — after checking to make sure Outlook didn't mistakenly move real e-mail to your Junk E-Mail folder.

No machine is perfect, and no program that runs on a machine is perfect. The ways in which Outlook figures out which messages are junk and which are real is a real mystery. Some junk e-mail may get through, but Outlook is likely to catch more than half the junk messages you're destined to receive. Outlook may even be so bold as to dump items from real people into the Junk E-Mail folder. Such is life.

Fine-tuning the filter's sensitivity

You don't need to do anything to turn on Junk E-Mail filtering in Outlook 2003. The program already guards against junk e-mail the first time you start it up; however, the protection level is set at Low.

Whether you feel that Outlook moves too many incoming messages — or too few — to the Junk E-Mail folder, you can adjust Outlook's sensitivity to suit your taste by changing the Junk E-Mail settings.

To adjust Outlook's Junk E-Mail Settings, follow these steps:

1. Choose Actions --> Junk E-Mail --> Junk E-Mail Options.

The Junk E-Mail Options dialog box appears with the Options tab on top.

2. Click the option you prefer.

The circle next to the option you click darkens to show what you've selected. The options that Outlook offers you include

• No protection: At this setting, every sleazy message goes right to your Inbox, unchallenged. If that's your cup of tea, fine. Most people want a little more filtering.

• Low: The junkiest of the junk gets moved, but a lot of nasty stuff still gets through.

• High: This setting is aggressive enough that you can expect to see a certain amount of legitimate e-mail end up in the Junk E-Mail folder. If you choose this setting, be sure to check your Junk E-Mail folder from time to time to be sure that important messages don't get trashed by mistake.

• Safe Lists only: This setting moves all messages out of your Inbox except for the ones from people or companies that you've designated in your Safe Senders lists.

Also, the check box at the bottom of Options tab offers you a chance to permanently delete suspected junk e-mail. Because a perfect Junk E-Mail filter has yet to be invented, it's probably better to push junk messages over to the Junk E-Mail folder and empty the folder occasionally. On the other hand, you may work in a company that limits the amount of e-mail you're allowed to store, and the messages in your Junk E-Mail folder count against your limit. So zapping junk e-mail may be the best option.

3. Click OK.

The Junk E-Mail Options dialog box closes.

There you are! With any luck, you'll no longer need to wade through messages about get-rich-quick schemes or pills that enlarge body parts you don't even have.

Filtering your e-mail with sender and recipient lists

Outlook's Junk E-Mail handling feature includes an option that you can choose if you want to set up your own safe lists for handling where your e-mail comes from or goes to. You can make a list of people whose messages should always be moved to the Junk E-Mail folder (or people whose messages should never be moved there). Check out the other tabs of the Junk E-Mail Options dialog box for descriptions of the types of senders you can enter:

  • Safe Senders: When a message arrives with an e-mail address or domain on this list in the From line of the message, Outlook makes sure not to treat the message as Junk E-Mail — no matter what else the message says.
  • Safe Recipients: If you receive messages from an online mailing list, the messages often appear to come from many different people, but they're always addressed to the list. (For example, if you belong to any of the groups on yahoogroups.com, you'll see this.) In this case, you'd put the name of the list in your Safe Recipients list.
  • Blocked Senders: This is the opposite of the two choices above; messages from the addresses on this list are always treated as Junk E-Mail.

Adding an individual to your Blocked Senders list is pretty simple: When you receive a message from someone you don't want to hear from anymore, select the message and choose Actions --> Junk E-Mail --> Add Sender to Blocked Senders List. This same method works for adding people to the Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists. Just select the message, choose Actions --> Junk E-Mail, and then choose the list to which you want the sender added.

Of course, if you want to be more precise, you can go directly to the appropriate tab in the Junk E-Mail Options dialog box and type in the addresses you want to filter.

Some other Junk E-Mail options that could save you time include these:

  • Contacts List: A check box at the bottom of the Safe Senders tab is labeled "Also trust e-mail from my Contacts." If that box is checked, messages from anyone in your Contacts list automatically get treated as safe messages.
  • Import and Export: If you have a particularly long list of people to add to your Safe Senders list or your Blocked Senders list, you can create a list in Notepad and then import that list to Outlook. Companies with lengthy client lists might make this feature available to all.

Filtering domains

Outlook gives you one rather powerful option among your junk e-mail choices that you need to be careful about. That option involves filtering domains. If you do business with people at a certain company, you can enter that entire company in your Safe Senders list by selecting the message and then choosing Actions --> Junk E-Mail --> Add Senders Domain (@example.com) to Safe Senders List.

However, if you accidentally add the domain of a friend who sends you e-mail via America Online to your Safe Senders list, you partly defeat the purpose of your Junk E-Mail filters (because so much junk e-mail comes from aol.com — or at least pretends to come from aol.com). So use the domain-filtering feature with care.

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