Use another email provider as a spam filter

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This article was written for Thunderbird but also applies to Mozilla Suite / SeaMonkey (though some menu sequences may differ).

Sometimes you get too much spam to manage using the junk mail controls even if you supplement it with other programs such as SpamAssassin or SpamPal, or its too difficult to do all the tweaking necessary to get SpamAssassin to work effectively. Gmail provides free POP and IMAP accounts and has a good reputation for spam filtering. You can keep your existing account and email address but have Gmail filter your spam.

  • Login to your email providers web site using a browser and use a webmail command to automatically forward all of your email to Gmail. If thats not feasible, Gmail has a Mail Fetcher that can automatically fetch mail from other email providers, storing it in Gmail.
  • Add your existing accounts email address as another identity to the Gmail account. This will let you choose your non-Gmail accounts email address as the From: address in a drop down list. This makes it appear as if you're still using your old email provider (though somebody could figure out you what you are doing if they wanted to look at all of the headers in your message). If you make your non-Gmail account the default account the drop down list should default to its email address.
  • Register your non-Gmail accounts email address on Gmail's web site using Setting -> Accounts -> "Add another email address". You need to do this so that Gmail doesn't replace the From: address with the one for your Gmail account when you send a message..
  • Keep your non-Gmail account but disable checking for new mail, automaticly downloading new messages and using the junk mail controls.
  • Try this approach for a couple of days to see if it is an improvement. If it is then you need to decide on a way to keep your non-Gmail account mailbox from getting full.
  • If your email provider only lets you automatically forward a message after its arrived it will keep a copy on the mail server. You could configure your old account to check for new mail but not automaticaly download any messages, and either enable tools -> account settings -> leave messages on server -> "for at most 7 days" or configure message aging for the inbox folder.
  • If it lets you automatically forward email as soon as it arrives that means it doesn't keep a copy - you don't have to worry about filling up your mailbox. Typically you have to define a rule (using thier webmail GUI) or write a server side script to do this. This feature is usually only available with IMAP accounts.
  • The Gmail Mail Fetcher has a option to delete the original message from the mail server after fetching it.

While Gmail has a good reputation for spam filtering and using it is more convenient than tweaking SpamAssassin or other heavyweight tools, it might not be a good solution if you get lots of certain types of spam. If you use Gmail to filter your spam there is a lot more that could go wrong. Its no longer mainly an issue of whether the mail server is backed up its possible you could lose a message that was being forwarded. It will also be harder to figure out whats going on when you run into problems.

The same approach would work with other email providers that have free accounts and a good reputation for spam filtering. However, its recommended that you use a email provider that provides a actual POP3 or IMAP server. Add-ons to let you use webmail in Thunderbird periodically break due to web page changes and they add a lot of overhead and complications.

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