Missing the Mark: Why Legitimate Emails Head Right for the Spam Folder

It’s a common and absolutely frustrating problem: you send an important email to a friend, colleague, family member etc. and, when you hear no response or feedback you follow up only to find they never received the message. Upon further examination the recipient discovers it got automatically dropped into their spam folder. If the sender and receiver are lucky the message wasn’t crucial: and yet, what if in different circumstances it was?


Ironically, the main culprit diverting legit emails into spam folders are the very tools—spam filters—we rely on to keep ourselves from being bombarded by annoying offers and fake messages that often contain viruses and malware designed to infect our computers and, in serious cases, steal personal information.

Whether the filter is one that comes standard with Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail or some other platform or one that a user adds on to help with blocking unwanted messages, many work the same way: but identifying and flagging specific words or key phrases that most commonly denote spam. The words could be “cheap medication,” “dating sites” or something incredibly lewd, and the filter assumes—correctly almost all of the time—that the email is junk.

Another type of automatic email sifting is called Bayesian Filtering, which utilizes statistical analysis to “learn” what spam looks like. For example, if you get a message in your inbox that’s obviously spam and mark it as such, the filter will add the body of that email into a database of sorts and, in the future, flag messages that contain similar content.

So what can you do to ensure your important messages are sent and received or to check if your spam-filtering program is running amok? To begin, follow some simple steps.

  • Look at your junk mail folder and click on “not spam” or the equivalent button for messages that aren’t spam or those you want to go directly to your inbox. This corrects the filtering system’s thinking and makes it more likely that, in the future, such messages won’t go directly to the scrap heap.
  • Add your important senders and recipients to your contact list or email address book. If the sender is someone you’ve marked as legitimate, the filter won’t consider messages going back and forth as spam.
  • Some email programs have the option to add or set up rules that tell filters that this sender’s emails should never be marked as spam.
  • As previously mentioned, certain email security programs do their job a little too well and begin filtering out everything. In this case, shut the program off completely.
  • It may be difficult, but watch what language you use in outgoing messages: remember that certain keywords send up red flags to filters. And if a particular message is vitally important, consider adding a “please confirm you received this email” note or something with similar verbiage to the bottom of your messages, and follow up with a phone call if you’re really nervous about the message being received.

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