I’ve tried filtering spam using my e-mail program, Eudora. I’ve reported spam to Spamcop.net. I even installed Norton Antispam to try to control the spam coming into my Inbox.
But it was still getting out of control. I have three separate domain names that I use for professional purposes and use one e-mail address for each for contact purposes. I needed something to help me weed out the spam from the legitimate messages—that being difficult to do by eye because of the similar subject lines between my real e-mails and spam e-mails.
I began searching online in earnest when I was booked to speak on a 7-day cruise. I heard that onboard Internet services could be pricey but I needed to check my e-mail because I was averaging 200-300 spams each day and I was afraid that my e-mail server would shut down if I didn’t delete some.
I found two services that seemed to fit the bill: SpamArrest and Vanquish. Both had free trial periods, so I decided to try them both out before making a decision. I tried SpamArrest first. It offered a 30-day free trial—for use while on the cruise. I then tried out Vanquish when I returned home.
Both work on the same principle of challenging the sender.
Once I signed up and installed the software on my computer, I set up my preferences and server settings on the product’s Web site. Although SpamArrest was compatible with Eudora (plus Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape, Incredimail, and any other e-mail program that supports the POP3 protocol), I couldn’t add the e-mail addresses I had stored in my address book (I needed to pay for a year’s membership first). So I had to add approved e-mail addresses in my account, which was tedious.
Here’s how it works: SpamArrest receives the e-mail messages on its servers. If the sender is approved, the message automatically goes to my inbox. If it was blocked, SpamArrest rejects it. All the other senders are sent a challenge e-mail message, asking them to verify themselves because I was now using an anti-spam service. To verify, the recipient clicks on the URL in the challenge message and is brought to the SpamArrest Web site, where a shaded box has a unique word that they have to type into a text box.
This is how SpamArrest can weed out spam from legitimate e-mails—spammers can’t take the time to physically respond to challenges. They rely on their spamming software to automatically get their junk out.
I log into my account on the SpamArrest Web site, check the unverified messages, and then approve what appear to be legitimate messages and delete the spam. What I especially like about this is that I not only saw the sender and the subject line, but if I clicked on the subject line, I could preview the message to see if it was real or spam. Remember when I mentioned that some spam subject lines are similar to legitimate e-mails I get? This is the best part of the service.
I could also configure SpamArrest to automatically accept any mailing lists I belonged to, add approved e-mail addresses, and block e-mail addresses I did not want to receive messages from. The downside was that I could not pre-approve domains I do business with on a consistent basis (such as ebay.com, paypal.com, amazon.com, etc) or block certain domains.
I went on my cruise (which was wonderful) and was able to check my e-mail for a nominal fee. I logged onto my account and sure enough, there were about 800 messages that had not been verified. I patiently went through the list, verified messages I recognized or thought were legitimate, then got rid of the spam. When I checked my POP mail via a Yahoo account I use on the road, all I received were the messages I’d pre-approved. I was pretty happy.
SpamArrest costs $19.95 for 6 months or $34.95 for a year and works on Windows, Mac, Linux and any other operating systems running standard email programs.
Working on the same challenge principle, Vanquish offers a 15-day free trial (versus the longer 30-day free trial from SpamArrest). However, it costs much less if you decide to buy—just $24.95/year (you can also get a bigger break buying 2 years at once or opt to pay monthly after the first year).
I downloaded the free trial, installed it, then set my preferences and server settings, much like SpamArrest. However, Vanquish allowed me to add all the e-mail addresses in my Eudora address book—all of them. I could also add or block certain domains, which SpamArrest doesn’t let you do.
Here’s how it works: Vanquish works much the same way as SpamArrest. If the sender is not in my pre-approved address or domain list, he or she is sent a verification e-mail explaining that I am using Vanquish to cut down on spam and to click on the URL to go through the verification process.
Again, verification is typing in a word that appears on the Web page link in a text box. Once that is done, the sender is approved and the message goes to my inbox. If the sender does not do this, I check my held e-mail and either release the message(s) to go to my inbox or delete them completely. The one thing I don’t like is that unlike SpamArrest, I can’t click on the subject line to preview the message to determine if it is really spam or not.
The other thing I don’t like is that sometimes when I right-click on the Vanquish icon in the system tray and select View Held E-mail, it has a hard time loading the page. More often than not, my Web browser locks up and I have to shut it down, right-click on the Vanquish icon again—but select any other option and I have no problem then checking my held e-mail. Go figure.
What is nice is the instantaneous response I’ve gotten for help with any problems using Vanquish. An e-mail to the service is answered quickly. There is also a message board on the Web site. Vanish is constantly updating and improving features (for free) and has promised to make Vanquish compatible with Web-based e-mail services such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc.
Of the two services, I prefer (and use) Vanquish. Except for not being able to click on the subject line and previewing the message, Vanquish is less expensive, more effective, and offers more features and options than SpamArrest. It does work with any POP3-compliant mail program, such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Netscape, Opera (M2). However, it is only available for Windows machines, not other operating systems like SpamArrest.
Although neither program eliminates spam completely, I have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount I get each day. Where I used to get up to 300 spams per day, I am now down to about 100-150. That proves to me that Vanquish is doing something right.
Try out the free trials of both for yourself and make your own decision. Whichever one you select, you will stop using any other type of software or service.
J. A. Hitchcock is a freelance writer and the author of Net Crimes & Misdemeanors (CyberAge Books, 2002), which is presently being updated.