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Issue #418: July 26 – Aug 1, 2015

As I sit down to put pen to paper, uh, fingers to keyboard, it strikes me that this edition of It’s Geek To Me – which happens to be Issue #418 – marks the column’s 8th anniversary.  I’ve long ago lost track of how many questions I’ve answered, and how many thank-yous I’ve received.  Of course, there are also the occasional people who, for one reason or another, don’t feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth out of this FREE publication.  Oh well – can’t please everyone I suppose.  What say we ignore them and celebrate with a question?  And cake.  Definitely cake…

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Q: I have 3 friends whose ISPs are bouncing my emails as spam, a recent occurrence. I have called Cox many times, they say it is not them, yet they bounce outgoing ems as spam. Some time ago, Centurylink and Embarqmail ISPS of 2 friends say it is on my end, yet I am on their ‘trusted’ list. The Knology friend in Montgomery is working the issue with them. I am frustrated that they can send to me, and I cannot even reply w/o being bounced. I believe the NSA is screwing with me or something. Cox says a signature on ems triggers it sometimes, yet I have used the same one for years.  HELP!!

– John M.
Mary Esther, Florida

A: I’m going to take you at your word when you say that your friends’ ISPs are bouncing the e-mail as SPAM.  However, if the e-mails are ending up in their mail readers’ SPAM folder then that’s not “bouncing” per se, and it’s not their ISPs that are doing it.  I’m a little lost in your second sentence where you go on to say “they (Cox) say it is not them, yet they bounce outgoing ems as spam”.  Assuming that “ems” is your shorthand for “e-mails” this would seem to contradict the prior sentence where you said it was your friends’ ISPs that were bouncing them.

It makes sense that the bouncer wouldn’t be your ISP, because by and large, outgoing residential e-mails aren’t filtered.   Your e-mail account is probably limited to a certain number of e-mails sent per hour or per day to prevent bulk e-mail SPAM, but I haven’t run into very many providers that filter outbound messages based on their content.  Having said that though, it’s possible that the way a message is crafted could appear suspicious on the distant end.  Messages containing only graphics and no text content are highly suspicious.  Messages with lots of hyperlinks, or a hyperlink without any accompanying text are also suspicious.  Messages sent to multiple recipients often trigger SPAM filters, especially if all the addresses are in the CC: field.  Certain words or phrases can cause a message to be flagged as SPAM.  It’s also possible that your e-mail address got on their ISPs’ “Black List” for some reason.  For example, if you got an e-mail virus that was sending out dozens of e-mails in the background, you’d never see it happening, but there monitoring software used by various ISPs that might detect these emanating from your address and flag it as a source of SPAM.

I highly doubt that the NSA is messing with you unless there’s more to your story that you haven’t told me. If the e-mails are truly being “bounced” and not simply being caught by an e-mail client’s SPAM filter, I think you’re doing the right thing by directly engaging the ISPs.  Using that specific term “bounced” tells me you’re getting a notification back from whatever server is refusing to deliver the e-mail for you.  From that bounce notification, it should be perfectly obvious where the e-mail bounce occurred.  Use the notification as evidence to the guilty ISP to get them to address the problem.  Worst case, change your e-mail address.  I know that is a pain, but it can make a lot of problems go away.  If the problem persists with a different address, then you know it’s the way the messages are being crafted that’s causing the problems.

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