Although Microsoft Outlook comes with a primitive spam filter (the "junk senders list,") I found that some of their hard-coded rules throw out important email. For example, scientific news releases from NASA (sent to "un-named recipients") always got lost.

If you would like to use my rule as an example (or a starter solution,) download this file. Save it anywhere you want, then select Tools | Rules Wizard from the Outlook menu. Then, select Options, Import Rules. Finally, navigate to the ".rwz" file you save and import it.

Creating the Rule

To create an excellent spam filter, go into Tools | Rules Wizard and delete (or disable) every rule. Next, create a new rule called "Spam Blocker." When Outlook asks, choose "check messages when they arrive." For "Condition" select "with specified words in the subject or body." In the "Rule Description" box, click on the "specified words" hyperlink.

To flesh out the rule, enter any phrases that you find in your spam. My list includes phrases like:

"to be removed," "order now," "order within," "this email complies," "no obligation," "call now," "young girls," "18 or older," "not multi-level," "not mlm," "not multilevel," "phone sex," "1 on 1," "girl on girl," "get rich quick," "mlm," "chain letter," "act now," "remove in the subject line," "e-mail marketing," "broadcast email," "increase in sales," "full refund," "order by phone," "order by fax," "for only $," "cash back," "major credit cards," "000

When you select "Next," Outlook asks you what to do with messages that match this rule. Depending on your preference, you have several options:

- "Move it to the specified folder.": Select this rule if you want to move it to a special folder ("Spam," for instance.)

- "Mark it as importance.": Select this rule, then set "high" importance to have Outlook "flag" spam and not delete it. This is a good option to use when you first test your rule -- that way, you don't have to worry about losing important email!

- "Delete it.": When you've worked the kinks out of your new rule, select this option to simplify your life!

You can always change Outlook's action on the rule by selecting "Modify Rule" from the Tools | Rules Wizard item in the Outlook menu. After you've told Outlook what to do with your filtered messages, select the following two exceptions:

- "Except if from people or distribution list.": When you click on the "people or distribution list" hyperlink, Outlook shows your contact list in a "Rule Address" dialog box. To move all of your contacts onto the right-hand side, click (and hold) beside the first name and then drag the mouse down until the list stops scrolling. Then click the "From" button to add them all. Finally, press "OK" to dismiss the dialog box.

- "Except if subject or body contains specific words.: To flesh out this exception, simply add any words that you think indicate "friendly" email. You might include any newsletters you subscribe to, and common closings. My list includes:

"lockergnome," "netsurfer," "tourbus," "infobeat," "netscape," "unsubscribe," "word of the day," "," "ttyl," and "sincerely."

Finally, click "Finish" to complete your rule!

Testing the Rule

I recommend that you first use the rule to mark your spam as "high importance" (and not delete it) until you're sure that the rule will not delete important email.

Although your incoming mail is an excellent source of "test emails," an even better source is your deleted items folder. To test your rule, first go into your deleted items folder. Then select Tools | Rules Wizard from the Outlook toolbar, select your "Spam Blocker" rule, then select "Run Now." Again, select your "Spam Blocker" rule, then click "Run Now." If your rule incorrectly flags some items, modify the rule to "set items as (normal) importance." Run it again, then modify it to "set items as (high) importance.

Since your deleted items folder usually contains several months of old email, if your rule works properly on the folder it will probably work properly on all your email. Once you've perfected your rule, you can modify it to simply delete your spam. Don't forget: anything the rule deletes stays in the "deleted items" folder until you empty it -- so you need not worry about irreversible changes.

Tweaking the Rule

Although your personalized rule catches most spam, some will sneak through. When spam appears in your inbox look at it as an opportunity to refine the rule. When you read the mail, ask yourself "what tells me that this email is spam?" If you find a marker, update your rule! To update your keyword list, select Tools | Rules Wizard from the Outlook menu -- then click on the "with "to be removed" or "order now" or ..." hyperlink to add a new phrase.

Getting Results

This spam filter gets rid of almost all junk email that I receive. Since I always update my rule -- it only gets better.

If you would like to use my rule as an example (or an easy solution,) download this file. Save it in anywhere you want, then select Tools | Rules Wizard from the Outlook menu. Then, select Options, Import Rules. Finally, navigate to the ".rwz" file you save and import it.