Spam Slayer: Biggest Spam Hassles Solved

Tip of the MonthFraud Alert: Interested in tracking your tax return online? The Internal Revenue Service allows you to track your refund at its Get Refund Status site. Beware of any e-mail that claims you're due a refund or offers a way to check your refund status online. There are reports of e-mails circulating pretending to be from the IRS that sport links to Web pages that ask for your Social Security number, credit card number, or sometimes even the PIN numbers for ATM cards.

You've got spam questions, I've got answers. Each month my inbox is brimming with great questions from inquiring readers who want to know how to combat spam. This month I answer the most common and puzzling spam questions from the Spam Slayer mailbag.

Complaining about spam brings a certain satisfaction. Many readers ask where they can complain--and if anybody is listening to their gripes.

The Federal Trade Commission allows you to file complaints online and asks that you forward the spam message you are complaining about to The FTC says it doesn't take action on individual complaints. Rather, it collects thousands of complaints and uses them to identify and go after the most abusive spammers.

Another organization that accepts spam complaints is SpamCop, which says it determines the origin of spam e-mail and reports it to the relevant Internet service providers. Be advised, however, that SpamCop is a commercial service that also sells a spam filtering service for $3 per month. By joining the SpamCop army of people who report spam you may be helping the company fight spam for its customers, but don't expect a price break for the commercial service.

Spam is an equal-opportunity annoyance. Every day new Internet users are discovering just how annoying it is. So the next most popular question I get is: "Help! Could you recommend a good spam filter?"

There are a lot of great, reasonably priced spam filters. For a close look at the latest offerings, read "Inbox Tamers," which offers a good primer on a variety of spam filters.

Personally, I like Firefox's free Thunderbird e-mail client. It does a great job of filtering out crud and adapting to my e-mail likes and dislikes.

If your spam load is considerable, and you use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, you may want to take a look at Sunbelt Software's IHateSpam or Cloudmark Desktop (formerly called SpamNet), both of which we've reviewed and liked.

Many readers are stumped by AOL's anti-spam policy. They complain that the service is blocking legitimate e-mail by labeling it spam. The problem goes something like this: Someone who doesn't use AOL tries to send e-mail to an AOL member. But AOL labels the message as spam and it is blocked--never to make it into AOL's network. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this problem.

Because AOL has so many members, it is the ultimate spam magnet--and consequently has one of the most restrictive spam filters. The company says it blocks, on average, 2 billion spam messages each day before e-mail even reaches members' in-boxes.

AOL says that if it is blocking your e-mail, it's either because you are sending e-mail from a server or ISP unknown to AOL, you have violated AOL's unsolicited bulk e-mail policies, or members have complained that you're sending spam.

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