Are you being unfairly labelled as a spammer?

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

I have spoken at great length about spam in this column. Spam from e-mails, spam in social media and spam in Monty Python. I have also spoken about ways to combat it and what you should do to report it.

Have you ever thought about it from the point of view of someone the other side of the spam filter?


No, I don’t mean as a spammer. I mean as someone who sends a genuine message to a genuine friend or colleague and the blasted spam filter puts it in the junk folder anyway.

It happens to everyone once in a while, but why and how can you try and avoid it?

To answer that you need to understand how filters work.

The IP address of your machine or mail server could be on a blacklist for instance. That happens when a lot of spam is being detected as having originated from that source. In some cases you may receive a return message, with a link to a blacklist site where you can appeal to get the IP address removed. You may need to speak with your ISP if it is their mail server and if it is your own IP address, run a virus scan straight away.

Filters also try to look at the subject and content of a message. They are trained in part by the likes of you and me when we mark messages as junk. So if you think a message looks like spam, then the spam filters will too.

Things they look out for are…

n Keywords associated with spam messages. Like ‘Viagra’, ‘drugs’, and ‘click here’.

n Incomplete, blank or misspelled subjects.

n Use of large fonts, bright colours and text that is hidden (the same colour as the background).

n Attachments, especially ones ending in .zip and .exe.

You may be thinking, ‘Well, I don’t write about Viagra, but my messages are still being blocked’. The keywords are important here. For instance, here is part of a spam message I received recently.

‘Its me Adriana you remember me from Facebook? I saw your pictures today and you’re CUTE!’

So imagine writing something like the following to someone you actually know:

‘Hi how ya doing? It was great bumping into you the other day. Want to meet for a drink and catch up? You can bring your dog, it is soooo CUTE!’’

Seemingly innocuous, but it’s just the sort of thing the spam filters are trained to catch. That is not their fault and it’s not yours either. It’s the spammers fault, for trying to appear more like the rest of us and thus get past those filters.

To avoid being caught out by those pesky filters, try to write emails as if you were writing an actual letter. Avoid one line messages, especially ones with links or attachments. Use proper capitalisation, spelling and grammar. Before sending it, read it. If it looks spammy to you, then it will look spammy to the spam filters.

Finally, if you receive a message that has been incorrectly identified as junk, make sure you mark it as not junk, so the system can learn.

Alan Stainer