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Issue #329: November 10, 2013

Q: This stupid computer is designating most emails I receive to be SPAM whether they are or not!! Every time it happens I go to my JUNK email lists and designate a known recipient to be a SAFE sender but it seems to do no good. Obviously the computer is using some flawed criteria to designate something as SPAM and I need to amend it. Questions: 1. Where is the list of criteria a computer uses to ascertain if something is SPAM; (2) How do I get into that list to amend it? 3. Why does the computer designate a SAFE SENDER to be a SPAM email?  I use Outlook (not Express) and I have the Cox Internet Security program installed – nothing else.  Monthly I run Glary Utilities and the “cleaning” tool in the windows accessories.  I do the analyze tool in the defrag program and when it says it’s needed, I fire it up.  The Cox Security Suite is set to do the virus update weekly and run a full scan every month.  Windows is set for automatic update checking and does its thing when it has something to upload.  It uploads, turns itself off, and then when I boot the next day it installs.  I seldom check Webmail, and I never touch Windows Live Mail.  I got enough problems with Outlook mail – Hmmm, if Windows is “live” mail, would Outlook be “dead” mail?  When this problem happens, the e-mail subject is altered to include the word [SPAM].  When I get an email with a SPAM designation, if it’s from someone I know, I always go to the options and designate them as a “safe” sender or recipient.  Doing that seems to be of no help.  I still get a lot of emails from known, acceptable, safe senders identified as SPAM.  I have searched all over Outlook and the Webmail settings and I cannot find the criteria by which either my computer or the Cox server designates something to be SPAM.  It seems to me that if I designate someone like one of those above, to be “safe” then all subsequent emails from that sender should go to the IN box, not the SPAM box.  Is there any hope or am I stuck with a non-cooperative ‘puter?

– Wayne T.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: There is always hope, Wayne.  After reading the above question – which is actually a mash-up of e-mails that we exchanged – one might think this is a highly complex issue.  However, it’s really not.  The issue boils down to a simply matter of “Who or what is sticking the string [SPAM] in the subject line of my e-mails?”  Let’s start by exploring what is not doing that, so you can better focus your attempts to fix it.  First of all, you repeatedly said “this computer” is doing something.  I assure you, the computer itself is not doing anything except running software.  You can also eliminate Windows itself from that list, since what security is built-in to Windows does not really concern itself with whether you are receiving SPAM e-mails.  Next up is Outlook.  Although Outlook may move messages that it thinks are SPAM to the Junk Mail folder, Outlook itself does not make any modifications to an e-mail’s Subject line.  In fact, Outlook is probably moving these messages to Junk Mail because they have [SPAM] in the subject line.  That means [SPAM] is very likely being added before Outlook ever processes the message.  It also means that all your attempts to fix this problem by messing with Outlook settings and “safe” sender features have been moot.

I’m a bit curious of your statement that your implementation of security software on your system.  You said that you “have the Cox Internet Security program installed – nothing else”.  I’m unfamiliar with the Glary Utilities tool you run periodically.  But, the Cox software — that suite is “powered by McAfee” meaning that Cox has licensed a version of the McAfee Security Suite to provide to their customers, and I’m going to bet my tin-plated Geek badge that therein lies the cause of your problem.  I’m somewhat out of space for this issue, but I’m certain that the instructions at will be of great interest to you, and to anyone else with a similar problem.  Final word: I know this problem has been frustrating you, but I implore you to resist the urge to simply turn the feature off altogether.  Try adjusting it first to get it to work properly, and if you can’t get the results you want, only then consider disabling it.  Good luck!

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