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GarbageThis week, we are writing about waste and trash, examining the junk that dominates our lives, and digging through garbage for treasure.  

The algorithms guarding our inboxes have now developed to the stage that spam is usually kept at bay, but these auto-sorting processes aren’t perfect yet—if you’re not regularly opening up your spam folder to check on your email provider’s accuracy, you could well be missing some genuinely useful messages that you need to see.

While we can’t speak for everyone and every email app, we’ve noticed the occasional non-spam message get pulled into the spam pile. It’s still worth opening up your spam folder once in a while to check (spam is typically kept around for a few days before being automatically deleted).

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We also recommend spending some time training the spam filter on your email client of choice, taking a few moments to help it fine-tune the techniques that help it spot spam messages from the rest. Here’s a guide through the process for some of the most popular email tools out there.


Gmail

To see the spam that’s collecting in the Gmail spam folder, you can follow this link in your web browser (remember the list of messages may well stretch to more than one page). If you see something genuine, open the message then click Report not spam.

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Any messages that are really spam can be permanently erased by clicking Delete forever. Both these options appear on the main spam folder view too, so you can select and process batches of emails together if you need to.

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Spam emails can be flagged from Gmail as well: Either select the message and click Spam, or go into it and click Spam. Gmail uses all this information to improve its spam-recognizing technologies and to try and ensure fewer mistakes in the future.

All of this can be done through the mobile apps as well. Tap the menu button then Spam to check on flagged messages: Once in a message, tap Not spam if Gmail got it wrong, or the trash can icon above if Gmail got it right.

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Outlook or Windows Mail

If Microsoft Outlook software is in charge of your email life, you can start doing some email training by heading into the Junk Email folder from the left-hand navigation pane. If you spot a mistake, open the message then choose Junk and Not Junk from the Home tab of the ribbon menu.

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For the opposite action, choose Junk and Block Sender, which will send any other messages from the same sender straight to your spam folder as well, in the future. Alternatively, you can pick Move, Other Folder, and select Junk Email from the list.

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Outlook lets you change how aggressive the spam filter is inside the client: Open up the Junk menu from the Home tab, then choose Junk E-Mail Options. You can turn off filtering altogether, filter only the most obvious spam messages, try and catch as many spam messages as possible, or only accept emails from approved senders.

In the built-in Mail program for Windows 10, you need to click on More and then Junk in the folder list to find messages marked as spam. Use the Not junk button to tell Mail when an email is genuine. To send a message the other way, from the message window click the menu button (three dots, top right) then Mark as Spam.

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On the web, you can alert Outlook to genuine messages with the This isn’t spam button in the message header, or flag unwanted emails with the Spam option on the toolbar. In the mobile Outlook app, you need to open the menu button (three dots, top right), then choose either Move to spam or Move to inbox if Outlook has got something wrong.

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Apple Mail

Those of you that favor Apple’s brand of email clients can use the Move selected messages to Junk or Move selected messages to Inbox buttons on the toolbar (next to the trash can) to train the filter on Mail for the Mac. You can also drag and drop emails in or out of the Junk folder.

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For emails that are already in the spam (or junk) folder, there’s another option—you’ll see a Move to Inbox button at the top of the email when you open it. Whichever method you choose, Mail takes note for the future sorting of messages.

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You do get a few options to play around with when it comes to which emails get flagged as spam and which don’t. Open the Mail menu, choose Preferences, then Junk Mail. The filter can be turned on and off, and you can set the types of messages that are exempt (like emails from people in your contacts list).

Junk email is filtered “based on what [Mail] learns from you when you mark email messages as junk or not junk and the settings in Junk Mail preferences,” Apple says. To reset all that learning, click Reset in the Junk Mail dialog window.

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You don’t get any spam filtering settings to play around with on iOS, but you can move emails in and out of the junk folder if Mail isn’t getting it quite right. With a message open, tap the Move button (the folder icon) at the bottom to choose a different folder.

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Add your own rules

Don’t forget that all the email providers and clients we’ve mentioned also come with filtering options and ways to set up rules—if you find that important messages from one particular sender are always getting spammed, for example, you can set up a rule that ensures they stay in the inbox.

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You can also use this to flag up messages that have particular words in the subject or that come from a particular domain name, whether you want to flag important emails or spam emails that have been mislabeled.

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In Gmail on the web, you can open up a message, click the menu button (three dots, top right), then choose Filter messages like this to get started. Just type a domain name (starting with “@”) into the From box to flag up all emails from that domain, for instance.

In Outlook, open the Home tab on the ribbon menu and choose Rules: You’ll get some suggested filtering options straight away, based on the message that’s currently selected, but to set more specific filters, choose the Manage Rules & Alerts option.

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On Apple Mail for the desktop, meanwhile, you can open up the Mail menu then choose Preferences and Rules to start configuring some of your own custom-made filters. Anything from words in the subject header to whether or not a contact has emailed you before can be used as a criteria.

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