I have a very visible email address that must be in every possible spam database, and I receive literally thousands of spam messages each day. A few people have asked me to document how I deal with that. After years of experimenting, I’ve finally settled on a three-stage solution.
- All email for rds.com goes to a $19/month web-hosting account. I don’t use the hosting part — just the email. This service does three important things: (a) it ignores email to unknown addressees such as firstname.lastname@example.org (we get a lot of that); (b) it supports an explicit whitelist and blacklist; and (c) messages addressed to legitimate addressees are run through SpamAssassin. The latter isn’t great, and it’s configured for fairly non-aggressive interpretation to avoid false positives, but it’s a decent first-round of defense. One important configuration option was to disable message bouncing. When 99% of your email is spam, you don’t want to be automatically replying to it. Let the bogus messages fall on the floor.
- From the web-hosting account, everything is forwarded to Gmail accounts. The quality of Gmail’s spam filtering varies greatly, although not so much recently. It used to be highly accurate, but I think that since it’s such a CPU-intensive activity that Google has had to settle on less-accurate filtering. I actually think they have the ability to throttle the quality of their spam filtering based upon their load and available processing power, but that’s purely speculative on my part. A side benefit of running everything through Gmail is that it provides automatic archiving and searching of email and allows for remote access. While not on the road, I retrieve mail from Gmail using POP3 and the standard OS X Mail program.
- The final step is a $30 utility called SpamSieve. It’s one of those Bayesian filter applications, and works very well. After training with a few hundred messages, it is quite accurate, and it’s also quite easy to use.
Not related to spam per se, I also use MailSteward Lite to archive old messages in a searchable database. I’ve kept every non-spam email message for the past 11 years or so, and it’s all in there — even those messages that survived the migration from Outlook on Windows to Mac Mail a few years ago, which I did with a marvelous $10 program called O2M. The only reason I use MailSteward Lite is that OS X Mail gets slow when the mailboxes contain many thousands of messages. The big disadvantage is that it’s not externally searchable, most notably not by Spotlight.
Yes, it was a lot of work to get to this point. I haven’t mentioned the many tools I’ve tried and abandoned. But I now have a configuration that works well and is easy to use. I recommend it to anyone who, like me, has a very visible email address and who gets a lot of spam.