If you open your email inbox right now and look at your new messages, there’s a good chance the first message is going to be spam. The second message probably will be as well. In fact, more than half of your email is probably spam.
Not only is spam annoying, it can be potentially dangerous. It might contain malicious links or downloads that trick you into giving up sensitive information or downloading data-stealing viruses.
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While there’s no perfect solution for completely getting rid of spam, there are ways to cut down on it substantially. We’re going to walk you through three of those options that cover tweaking your existing email to getting a new one.
1. Train your spam filter
While many people lament the amount of spam they get, a lot of them don’t take advantage of their email’s built-in spam filter. This is especially true if you’re using your Internet service provider’s email system, since those are often a bit more basic than larger Webmail services.
Your first step is to look at your email’s buttons. It will likely have an option that lets you check messages in your inbox then “Mark as Spam,” or “Send to Junk folder.” If you’ve opened an email, you should see a button near the Delete or trash can icon that lets you mark the message as spam or junk.
Here’s an example from Outlook.com (also Live.com or Hotmail.com):
Sure it’s annoying to do this for dozens of emails, but it should start to learn very quickly what you don’t want to see. You can see the spam in your inbox cut down from dozens to a handful of messages a day.
If you’re using a major Webmail service like Outlook.com, Gmail or Yahoo, the spam filters are good. With a smaller email service, however, it might not catch everything or be as smart as it could be.
For example, it might mark emails as spam it shouldn’t, like the daily emails we send you. Learn how to keep our emails from going to the spam folder.
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If your email’s spam system isn’t cutting it, it might be time for an upgrade.
2. Get another spam filter
You can’t actually install a new spam filter in your email account. That’s handled by your email provider. You can, however, take advantage of another email service’s spam filter or a third-party spam filter.
For example, Google lets you link up multiple email accounts so you can read your mail through Gmail. Not only does that keep you from jumping around email sites, you get to take advantage of Gmail’s excellent spam filter.
To link up your address, create a free Gmail account, or log in to the one you have. Then click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select “Settings.” Go to the “Accounts and Import” tab and next to “Check mail from other accounts” click “Add a POP3 mail account you own.”
Fill in the information for your other email address and you will start seeing your email in Gmail. In most cases, Google should figure it out automatically, but you might need to contact your ISP or email provider for server information.
While you’re in the Settings area, the setting above “Check mail” is “Send mail as.” This lets you send email from Gmail and make it look like it’s coming from your other account. That’s a good idea if you don’t want people getting confused and replying to your Gmail address instead of your main address.
Most other free Webmail services have a linking option as well. For Outlook.com, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select “Options.” Then click “Your email accounts” and choose “Add a send-and-receive account.” Put in your information and the email will start appearing.
Yahoo has a similar system, but only supports Yahoo, Google, Outlook and AOL accounts. It doesn’t handle ISP email at this time. If you another mail service, poke around in the settings or contact the provider for instructions.
The only downside to linking email addresses is that deleting an email in Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo won’t delete it from your original account. Every month or so you’ll need to go into your original email account and delete all the messages to keep it from going over the storage limit.
If you don’t want to mess with multiple email services, you can try a third-party service like Sanebox. Link it up to your email and it scans your usage history to figure out what emails you want to see and which ones you don’t. The ones it filters it puts in another folder so you don’t have to wade through them. It works with any email account and doesn’t read or store your messages for security.
3. Start over
If you’re seriously drowning in spam, and even the steps above don’t fix it, it’s time for the nuclear option: start a new account. That gives you a fresh email address that spammers don’t have on their lists.
Of course, none of your friends and family will have it either. And you’ll be missing years and years of emails and contacts. However, there is a way to go about it that makes it relatively painless.
You can use the steps above for Gmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo to link up your existing email address. This will bring in your old emails, and you’ll keep getting emails people accidentally send to your old address, or from service you signed up for.
Both Gmail and Outlook.com also let you import your old emails without link accounts, and Gmail will also bring in contacts.
In Gmail, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select “Settings.” Go to the “Accounts and Import” tab and click “Import mail and contacts.” Enter your email information and Gmail will pull in your mail and contacts. Gmail will also keep pulling new email for the next 30 days.
For Outlook.com, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select “Options.” Click the “Import email accounts” link. Choose your current email provider and enter your information. Note that Outlook.com only pulls email from IMAP-capable email accounts, which many smaller email services aren’t.
Then you just have to let everyone on your contact list know that you have a new email address. You might even keep your old account around to give out to companies and people who aren’t your friends and family. Speaking of which …
Bonus: Keep spammers away from your new address
You’ve got a shiny new address, but if you aren’t careful it will become spam central again in a few weeks. That’s why you need to set some rules for how you use it.
If you start giving it out to every website or company, eventually you’ll find one that sells your address to a spam list. That’s why you should only give your new address out to friends and family.
For other uses you have a few options. You can use a service like MailDrop to create fake, temporary email accounts to use for registering on sites.
Webmail is free, so you can create a second email address that you use for signing up or giving out to companies. Simply link it up to your main address so you can see your email in one place. However, if it gets too spammy, you can always disconnect or delete it. The major Webmail services also make it easy to create aliases.
With Gmail, just you can add a “+word” to any email address when you give it out. So, if your address is “email@example.com,” you can give out the address “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Email going to that address will show up in your main inbox but will have that extra bit tacked on when you look at the email information.
That means you can use Google’s filtering tools in Settings>>Filters and Blocked Addresses to direct emails going in to alias addresses to certain folders or just have them go straight to the trash when you no longer want them. You can create as many of these aliases as you want.
Note: Some websites don’t accept Google’s alias email addresses.
For Outlook.com, go to Settings and click “Create an Outlook.com alias.” You can create several to give out, and manage them in Settings using the “Aliases: manage or choose a primary.” If one alias gets too much spam, you can just delete it.
Yahoo lets you create disposable email addresses with a “base name” and “keyword.” You can create up to 500 keywords, which is a lot of disposable email.
Click the gear icon in the upper-right corner and select “Settings.” Go the “Security” tab and under “Disposable Addresses” click “Create base name.”
You can make the base name the first part of your email address or something random, such as “spatula.” Something random would be better because it keeps someone from figuring out your main email address. Just note that you can only have one base name per Yahoo account.
Once your base name is created, you can start making keywords, such as “contests,” “bills,” “junk,” or whatever else you want. When you’re giving out an address online or to a company, you can just tell them, “email@example.com.”
Did these tips help out your spam situation? Do you have your own tricks you use for avoiding spam? Let us know in the comments.