Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm not getting email I'm sure I should be getting. Why not?

Frequently-Asked Question....

• Someone sends you an email

• You don't get it

• The sender doesn't get any indication that the mail wasn't delivered

"And it really is all about spam."

This turns out to be a fairly common problem, and not just for Hotmail. Yahoo and other email services seem to suffer the same problem from time to time.

It's the worst of all possible scenarios - you can't know what you didn't receive, and the sender has no indication that nothing was delivered. Neither of you realize that there's any problem until much, much later.
It's the most frustrating of all possible scenarios.

And to cover the stock recommendations, Here they are:

• Check your junk mail folder

• Clear any filters you have set that might automatically act on incoming email (have you perhaps inadvertently blocked mail from the sender?)

Add the sender's email address to your address book. On some email providers this acts as a kind of "whitelist", or at least increases the probability that email from that person will get delivered

• Make sure that the sender isn't sending something that "looks like" spam. (see more on SPAM below) For example if his email is talking about enlarging body parts, then it's highly likely to get filtered as SPAM. Sadly it doesn't have to be that blatant - legitimate messages about breast cancer, free offers, and more can often be confused with, and filtered as, SPAM

And it really is all about SPAM. Chances are that your email provider, (Our district in this case), is simply being overly aggressive about filtering spam. (And unfortunately in doing so, there are actually reasonable arguments for not sending a bounce message - many spammers actually rely on bounce messages to either legitimize an email address, or to actually carry their spam message.)

So, what can you really do?

I wish that email providers,  gave you more direct control over what is, and is not, Spam to you. Truly paying attention to your address book would go a long way to solving the issue, but as you can see that's not happening consistently.

So what's the one thing to do that I said your parent probably won't like?

Use a different email provider.

Tell the parent to stop using Hotmail or one of the other substandard free e-mail service providers

Find an email provider that is more responsive to its customers needs. G-Mail currently appears to be the best of the free services, but email reliability is also worth paying for, if that's what it takes.

Here’s a set of troubleshooting strategies you might try:

1. If you know your message wasn't caught or deleted by the spam filters, you must then contact the sender and get hard evidence the email actually was sent.

"They say they sent it," or "I should have received this," or "I'm not getting email from so-and-so" are NOT specific enough comments to be useful in troubleshooting missing email, so you'll want to get better data before making a support request.

This means you must obtain the following specific information FROM THE SENDER:

1. What email address was the missing mail sent from?

2. What email address was it sent to? Verify there wasn't a typo in the email address.

3. When was it sent? The exact date and time (including time zone) is required.

4. Was a bounce message received?

1. If so, request a copy of it (with full headers, if present) and forward it to:

2. Send a test message to the sender and have them reply to it.

1. If you receive their reply, you know you can receive from them, so have them resend the original message.

2. If you receive a bounce message from your test message, forward it with full headers to

3. If you don't receive a bounce and they don't receive your test email, forward a copy of your test message, including full headers to

Why is my mail to this person not getting through? MORE ON SPAM…

Spam is a real problem. With some people getting literally hundreds of unwanted messages per day a lot of internet service providers as well as some individuals are taking drastic steps to reduce the amount of junk mail in their inboxes.

The problem with many of these anti-spam measures is that they can block legitimate email as well. Assuming that your email to other places is working it's quite possible that that's what you're seeing.

Legitimate email typically gets erroneously blocked for a couple of reasons:

either the receiving system thinks your email looks too much like Spam


The receiving system thinks that you're sending it from an address that is or has been accused of being a spammer. Note that I said thinks, and it's the mistakes associated with that thinking that cause legitimate email to be mistaken for spam.

Spam content filters look at your email and assign points for various behaviours that are also associated with email that comes from a spammer. As soon as you collect too many points (where "too many" is up to the receiving system or the individual recipient), your email is flagged as spam. Some of the things to watch for in your email include:

• Sexually explicit terms or phrases such as "adults only", "over 18" and the like.

• Certain drugs, again typically linked to sexual performance or characteristics.

• SHOUTING. Spam filters will often consider shouting (or alternately SHOUTING or not) as sales copy.

• Fake, inconsistent, or illegal return addresses. Or a "reply-to" address that does not match the "from" address. (If you don't know how to even make that happen don't worry about it.)

• HTML email. Spam filters consider HTML email as having a higher likelihood of being spam than plain text email.

• Marketing terms. Because so much Spam is in fact direct sales marketing many filters now look for various words and phrases such as "satisfaction guaranteed", "free offer", or any of a host of sales wording and give that a higher probability of being Spam.

It's important to realize that no one is saying that any of those things in your email is bad or that any one of those things will cause your email to be blocked. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the more your email looks like Spam, however innocuous, the more likely it is to be treated as Spam.

The other common problem is email being blocked because it came from an IP address that's been identified as somehow being related to spammers. If you're not getting your email bounced back to you with some indication this is both harder to detect and harder to resolve.

A quick test to make sure any email can get through is to use another provider - a friend's email account on a different service or even a free account (though many places filter those addresses as well). Assuming they get through, one resource is the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS) site. This site offers both information and a tool to see if perhaps your IP address has been blacklisted.

Finally, if you find that your address has been blacklisted or you still can't determine what's going on it's time to contact your Internet Service Provider. They're the "owners" of your IP address and are responsible for keeping spammers off of it and keeping it working for you.

And if they're not interested it might be time for a new Internet Service Provider.

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