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Gmail tip: Don't forget to check your spam filter

Before I incur the wrath of non-Gmail users, let me just note that this tip also applies to Hotmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo, and so on. But because I'm a Gmail user myself, and that's where my story begins, that's where I'm putting my focus.

When was the last time you checked your spam filter? I ask because until recently, I hadn't looked at mine for months. That's because I use Gmail, and the service is so good at keeping junk out of my inbox, I pretty much forgot spam existed.

But a few days ago, I went searching for an email that never arrived, and wondered if perhaps it had gotten caught in Google's filter.

It hadn't. However, I was surprised to discover a handful of other messages in the spam inbox that definitely weren't spam. Nothing crucial, but items I was a little bummed to have missed.

For example, amidst the "enlargement" come-ons and obvious phishing attempts, I found some marketing emails I actually wanted, from companies I'd agreed to let contact me. And a couple messages from readers of another blog I write.

What was particularly strange is that Gmail had filtered some messages from a particular source, but not others. For example, I get regular deal notices from Newegg, but a few wound up in the filter.

I'm not sure why Gmail suddenly decided those messages were spam, though I know the technology behind filtering can be imprecise at best. And it's easy enough to undo what's been done: Just click the box next to each message that's not spam, then click Not Spam.

The moral of the story, of course, is to check your spam filter on a regular basis--once a week at minimum, I'd say. Even if it routinely catches nothing but bona-fide junk, you never know when something important might get intercepted before it reaches your inbox. It's definitely worth a few minutes of your time to make sure that doesn't happen.

Go ahead and check your Gmail spam filter, then let me know: Did you find any false positives? If so, how many?

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PCWorld Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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