Using Gmail as your spam filter

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Gmail has a good spam filter, you can use it for your own email accounts.

In Email Essentials we often talk about spam filters that go too far, stopping you from seeing messages that you want to see. Many spam filters are either hidden from view or not configurable leaving customers unable to get messages they expect to get.

In some cases you can switch off the spam filter provided by your ISP or email host but then you have to download and deal with all the email yourself which is a waste of bandwidth and resources.

One good spam filter available to anyone is provided, free, by Google. Their Gmail facility has a good spam filter which catches most unwanted messages. On the rare occasion Gmail does mistakenly tag a message as spam you can retrieve it easily from the Spam folder.

You can still grab your email normally and keep your current email address. We’ll show you several ways to use Gmail as an email filter – which one you use depends on your circumstances and preferences.

Send email to Gmail

The simplest option is to re-direct your current email to a Gmail address.

If your current address has a forwarding option you can use that to forward all messages your Gmail address.

Many ISP’s don’t allow that so Gmail has a method of ‘pulling’ messages from an outside email account into Gmail. Go to Gmail settings | Accounts | Get mail from other accounts. You can add five external accounts to bring into Gmail.

There are several options available:

  • Leave copy on server. You can move messages from the external account to Gmail (unchecked) or copy messages so they can be accessed in both the old email account and in your Gmail account.
  • Use secure connection. Some ISP’s require a secure connection.
  • Label incoming messages. ‘Labels’ in Gmail are a bit like ‘Categories’ in Outlook – all the messages from a particular source can be tagged accordingly.
  • Archive incoming messages. If you just want a backup of messages held elsewhere, this option will put imported messages directly into the Gmail Archive folder.


Now you have messages flowing into Gmail and being spam filtered, how do you get to the remaining (presumably wanted) messages?

You could use Gmail as your primary mail host and that’s the most straight-forward approach. Enable POP access from Settings | Forwarding and POP | POP Download then setup your email client accordingly. Gmail’s help has instructions for many common email programs.

But you may prefer to have your main mailbox held elsewhere, for example on a local ISP. That’s where the Settings | Forwarding and POP | Forwarding option comes in. Just setup Gmail to forward all messages (after spam filtering) to an address you specify while keeping a copy in Gmail’s storage. You can then grab your filtered email from the account you forward your Gmail address to.

Of course, you need to forward messages to a different account than any of the ones you’re importing into Gmail. Otherwise you’d get a loop with messages coming into Gmail being forward to an account which then sends them back to Gmail.

Gmail spam control

Either way the messages are spam filtered for you by Google. If a spam message appears in your Inbox just click on the ‘Report Spam’ button and it’ll disappear with the details added to Gmail’s spam tracking. If there’s a message you want in your Spam folder just click on ‘Not Spam’ and it’ll be returned to your Inbox and Gmail notified once again.

There’s no individually configurable ‘white-list’ or ‘black-list’ but the standard filtering has worked very well from the outset.

Centralized Email

Using Gmail in this way not only gives you free spam filtering but also lets you centralize your email in one place that’s accessible from any Internet connected terminal.

Instead of checking different mailboxes, all your messages are in one place. The Labels option lets you separate messages into folders for different parts of your life.

Additional email storage

If you setup Gmail to retain messages as well as forward them, you have an automatic backup of all your messages up to 2.8GB in total capacity, which should be enough for several years. If you accidently delete a message, Gmail will have a copy.

As well as a backup, it means you can easily access your messages via Internet terminal or mobile phone. Gmail is easily searched online or indexed offline using Google Desktop Search.

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