Is there a “spam folder” that contains the spam I’ve received?

Some email companies give their customers a “spam folder” — a place where the company puts all incoming mail that they think might be spam.

While a spam folder seems like a good idea, our experience suggests they can cause more problems than they solve. We don’t use them by default (but see below for a way you change that).

On this page:

Why we avoid spam folders

The theory of a “spam folder” is that it saves you time by putting unwanted mail in a place where you don’t usually look at it. After all, if you’re looking at it all the time, the mail might just as well be in your Inbox.

But that causes a new problem: if you’re not routinely looking at your spam folder, it’s easy for a real message to disappear into a “black hole”, with neither the sender nor the recipient knowing that it wasn’t read. This is especially true when companies shovel any “borderline” mail into the spam folder, as many do.

Because of this problem, we do things differently by default. We want to make sure that someone always sees a message right away:

  • If we don’t reject a message, we’ll always put it in your Inbox where you’ll see it.
  • If we think a message is “spam”, we’ll reject it outright, returning it to the sender instead of accepting and filing it somewhere that you don’t usually look at. The sender will immediately know it didn't reach you and can try to contact you another way.

This probably seems alarming if you’ve used a company that frequently puts legitimate-but-slightly-spammy mail into a spam folder. If we rejected the same kind of borderline mail, we’d be constantly returning real mail to senders.

However, our spam filters try to be much more careful than most filters, taking extra steps to avoid “false positives” like this. As one example, our spam filtering never blocks messages from any address that you’ve written to, making sure that we never block a reply someone sends even if the message would look like “spam” to most filtering systems.

As a result, this problem should never happen with legitimate mail. We never consider “false positives” acceptable, and we receive fewer than one report of this happening per million email messages we block. If you do hear of it happening to you, please let us know immediately so we can investigate it.

What if I want to use a spam folder anyway?

If you do want to receive and file mail that we would normally reject as spam, or mail that we would normally deliver because it’s “borderline”, you can do this.

You would set the spam filtering level in the “E-mail Options” of our “My Account” control panel to “Low” (which eliminates almost all blocking — don’t set it to “Off” unless you knowingly want to receive thousands of messages that are definitely spam), then use Sieve filters to file suspicious messages into a “Spam” folder.

To see the resulting spam folder, you’ll need to use either Webmail or IMAP to read your mail — POP mail doesn’t know anything about folders.

The Sieve filter we recommend for this is:

require "fileinto";
if header :contains "X-Spam-Level" "*******"
{
    fileinto "Spam";
}

This filter looks for messages with a SpamAssassin score of 7 or more and files them in a folder named “Spam”.

This rule will file more messages in that folder than we’d normally reject outright — but you’re presumably doing this because you’re someone who intends to look in the spam folder on a regular basis, so you’ll notice any false positives. You can increase the number of stars if you want to put less mail in the spam folder, or decrease the number if you want it to be more aggressive.

By the way, we know that setting up a Sieve filter can be difficult if you haven’t done it before. If you would like us to do this for you, just let us know (it usually takes one business day to set it up).