If you run a small business there is a good possibility one or more of your email accounts will become the target of spammers. In our case, one seldom used email address receives more than its fair share of junk mail. Yes, it’s annoying, but there are steps you can take to minimize the hassle. There are also actions you should not do.

Most people know to never click on a file attached to a spam email, and this is true whether you use a Mac or Windows computer. Our anti-malware software regularly finds trojan horses, etc. attached to spam, usually before I know I’ve received it. And, most people know never to use an unsubscribe link in a spam email. If you try to unsubscribe, you’re just confirming to the spammers that your email address is a real target and the floodgates will open. You may receive marketing email that isn’t spam and these generally use email marketing systems like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. It’s safe to unsubscribe as these links go to the email services’ domains.

If you want to be proactive about spam, report it. Your web or mail host may have its own reporting procedure, but if not, you can report spam to Spamcop. Just follow the instructions on spamcop.net. When you report spam, the network administrators of the spam’s originating ISP are notified and usually take action against the spammer. The spam email also gets added to Spamcop’s and other filters. Spamcop is a free service, but there is a nag screen that asks you to open a paid account and slows down the reporting process. It’s up to you. I opened up an account as I think pitching in a little is a nice thing to do.

Your web or mail host may use a spam filtering service. Spamcop provides this service as does Spam Assassin, which is what our host company uses. Spam Assassin scores email using several metrics, including existing spam reports, and if a message tallies above a certain score, it is tagged as spam. The subject line is altered to lead with ***SPAM***. Spam Assassin is highly effective and very accurate, although not 100% accurate. Nothing ever is. Some spam slips through and some legitimate email gets tagged as spam.

This leads us to the email filtering you probably see as an option when you log into your host’s webmail service. If your host doesn’t use a third party filtering service like Spam Assassin, you can set up your own junk mail filtering, although from experience, I can tell you this is time consuming and not all that effective. Spammers constantly change their messages to get through filters. If you happen to use Spam Assassin, you can set up a simple filter that automatically sends messages tagged with ***SPAM*** to your junk folder, for you to review.

One thing you should never do is set a filter to bounce a tagged email back to the sender, if a bounce or fail option is available to you. This is for a couple of reasons, one obvious and one not so obvious. Obviously, you don’t want a mistakenly tagged email from a client or supplier to bounce back to them. The not so obvious reason is that few spammers are sending email from their own email address. Mostly, they’re forging the return address, which means your bounce is probably going to someone who has nothing to do with the spam. The result is your bounce will be reported as spam and your email address or your entire domain will end up on a spam blacklist and you’ll be faced with the hassle of getting off one or more of these lists. This is also a reason not to use any auto-responders such as Out of Office messages as the same thing can happen. Spamcop has a good info page on the problem with auto-responders.

Now that you’ve set things up so spam is routed to your junk folder, checking the folder should be part of your daily routine. Since no filtering system is perfect, that important email you’ve been waiting for just might be there.

Follow these easy step and you’ll be far less likely to start pulling your hair out in exasperation like our friend in the photo.*


*A big thank you to my brother Scott for his modeling talent.