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One Way to Spot Spam

Everyone I know is getting hit hard by spam. If you are a small business person without an IT department to help you deflect spam, here is a tip that may help you–if you use Microsoft Outlook.

If you use Outlook and you are unsure whether an email is spam, you can use Options to learn more about the message without opening it. Here are the steps:

  1. Left click once on the message. Clicking just once will not open it; it will highlight it.
  2. Right click.
  3. On the menu, click Options.

The Options screen will show you the Internet headers. You will find this information:

  • The return path–that is, the email address of the person to whom you would reply. If this differs from who is shown as the sender, that is a sign of spam. For example, if the sender is shown in your normal email view as Sandy Smith, but the return path is, that is suspicious.
  • Delivered to. You received the mail, but “Delivered to” tells you whether it was actually sent to you. For example, if I receive a message intended for akjhlajd (gibberish) rather than Lynn or Michael, it is spam.

The Internet headers will provide a lot of other information, for example, whether the message includes the word lottery or the phrases “credit consolidation” and “million dollars.”

I curse the spammer every time I open what looks like a legitimate message but is actually a sneak attack about a sexual enhancement drug or mortgage refinancing. Just think what a wonderful world we might have if spammers gave up their malicious tasks and actually did meaningful work.

If you have ideas to help us avoid opening sneaky spam that gets through our filters, please share them. And read my Silly Spam Story.

Note: If you ever receive something from our company, Syntax Training, it will come from lynng or michaelj (plus our company name and .com)–not from ejlsuzlpz or any other weird collection of letters.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.