What to do with all that spam

Applies to
Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003

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This article was adapted from Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out by Jim Boyce. Visit Microsoft Learning to buy this book.

Not too many people like spam — at least not the e-mail kind (Monty Python skits aside). If you're like most people, the majority of the e-mail headed toward your Inbox is junk. Dealing with all of that junk can take a big bite out of your day and leave you wishing for a big spam hammer! That's when Outlook comes to the rescue.

The best way to deal with spam is to block it before it gets to your Inbox. A good first line of defense is a spam filter at your Internet gateway or at your e-mail server. Even with filters in place there, however, it's still a great idea to use the Outlook spam-blocking filters to help keep your Inbox uncluttered.

Outlook 2003 adds some great spam-blocking features, building on the spam filter that was included in previous versions. To configure the Outlook spam filter settings, on the Tools menu, click Options, and then click Junk E-mail on the Preferences tab, which opens the Junk E-mail Options dialog box.

Options tab in the Junk E-mail Options dialog box

The Options tab lets you choose among four basic spam-blocking levels:

  • No Automatic Filtering    This option turns off spam filtering in Outlook, and I recommend it only if you have a very effective spam filter in place at your mail server.
  • Low    This setting enables Outlook to catch the most obvious spam.
  • High    With this more aggressive setting, Outlook catches more spam, but it might flag some of your regular messages as spam.
  • Safe Lists Only    Use this option if you want to receive mail only from people in your Contacts folder and from those you add to the Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists.

I recommend that you use the High setting and monitor your Junk E-mail folder for a few months. When you find a good message in the Junk E-mail folder that has been flagged as spam, right-click the message, point to Junk E-mail, and then click Mark as Not Junk to open the Mark as Not Junk dialog box. Selecting the option Always trust e-mail from "sender" adds the specified sender's address to the Safe Senders List (Safe Senders List: A list of domain names and e-mail addresses that you want to receive messages from. E-mail addresses in Contacts and in the Global Address Book are included in this list by default. People you sent messages to will be added to the list.). The option Always trust e-mail sent to the following addresses, when selected, causes the selected recipient addresses to be added to the Safe Recipients List (Safe Recipients List: A list that includes the e-mail addresses of mailing lists for which you want to be a recipient. Messages sent to such a mailing list and received by you will not be treated as junk e-mail.).

Mark as Not Junk dialog box

What are these lists? The Safe Senders List contains the addresses from which Outlook accepts e-mail, regardless of the content. Messages from these addresses are not flagged as spam or placed in the Junk E-mail folder. You can add individual addresses to the list or add entire domains. For example, if you want to receive mail from any address at example.com, you add example.com to the list. Or, if you want to receive e-mail only from someone@example.com, enter that specific address in the list. To modify the Safe Senders List, open the Junk E-mail Options dialog box and click the Safe Senders tab. Click Add, enter the address or domain, and then click OK. You can also right-click a message, point to Junk E-mail, and click Add Sender to Safe Senders List to add the sender's address to the list.

Another great feature added in Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 1 appears on the Safe Senders tab. The option Automatically add people I e-mail to the Safe Senders List, if enabled, causes Outlook to automatically add a recipient's address to the Safe Senders List when you send him or her an e-mail. This enables Outlook to automatically mark as safe addresses that aren't stored in your Contacts folder.

Safe Senders tab in the Junk E-mail Options dialog box

 Note   Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 1 is available at Downloads on Office Online. Under Office Update, click Check for Updates. Updates include the latest Outlook 2003 Junk E-mail Filter. The filter uses Microsoft SmartScreen Technology to help determine what e-mail messages should be considered spam.

Use the Safe Recipients List to allow messages into your Inbox based on the address to which they are sent. For example, if you participate in a mailing list, messages for that list are probably sent to a distribution address at a list server, and the message will have that recipient address rather than your own. If you don't add the list's address to your Safe Recipients List, Outlook will treat the messages as spam and put them in your Junk E-mail folder. You can add recipient addresses to this list from the Safe Recipients tab of the Junk E-mail Options dialog box, or simply right-click a message sent to that recipient address, point to Junk E-mail, and click Add Recipient to Safe Recipients List.

The third Outlook address list is the Blocked Senders List (Blocked Senders List: A list of domain names and e-mail addresses that are treated as junk e-mail and are blocked unless the sender is on the Safe Senders List or the recipient is on the Safe Recipients List.). Messages from senders on this list are always blocked, regardless of content. If messages are getting past the Outlook spam filters, add the sender's address to this list. You can add a domain (the part of the e-mail address to the right of the @ sign) to the list to block messages from all e-mail addresses at the specified domain.

The International tab of the Junk E-mail Options dialog box lets you specify how Outlook should handle messages that come from specific top-level domains in specific language sets. For example, if you have been receiving lots of spam from several domains in the top-level .YE domain, you can block the entire domain. Any messages that originate from a .YE domain are then treated as spam. To add to the list, click the International tab and then click Blocked Top-Level Domain List. Place a check beside each of the top-level domains you want to block and click OK.

International tab in the Junk E-mail Options dialog box

Back on the International tab, click Blocked Encodings List. Place a check beside the language sets you want to block and click OK. Then, click OK twice to close the dialog boxes and save your junk mail changes.

The combination of built-in spam filters and the Blocked Senders List should take care of most, if not all, of the spam you receive. But what do you do about any messages that make it through the filters? That's easy! Just create a rule to block the message based on the subject, words in the body of the message, or other identifying criteria. The easiest way to create a rule for a specific message is to right-click the message and click Create Rule, which opens the Create Rule dialog box. Here you can specify words for the subject, sender address, and other criteria to help identify the message, as well as what action to take, such as moving the message to the Junk E-mail folder.

About the author:    Jim Boyce has authored over 50 books on software and operating systems, including over a dozen titles on Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook. In other lives he has owned and operated an Internet services company, and been a college instructor, engineering technician, CAD systems manager, and UNIX administrator. In his spare time he enjoys flying, both real and model aircraft. See Jim's Web site for other Outlook, Office, and Microsoft Windows tips.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003