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License and registration, please
Signing up for SpamCop is a bit of a chore. You'll have to visit the site, navigate a series of Web pages, pick a new SpamCop e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and password, then choose a payment method for the $30 fee (PayPal or 2Checkout.com). Next, you must tell SpamCop how to pick up your mail and/or where to send it; this can be tricky if your ISP's mail servers and SpamCop's software don't see eye to eye.
SpamCop works in three ways. You can use your SpamCop e-mail as your public e-mail address, then forward the filtered mail to a private address. You can have your ISP forward all your mail to SpamCop for filtering, then read it on the SpamCop Web site. Or, you can tell the service to fetch mail from your ISP's POP server, then access it via SpamCop's site.
Mind the warning
SpamCop warns you against using its Web site to access POP mail servers, and we found out why. The first time we logged on, we had more than 4,000 messages in our in-box; approximately 100 were legit messages, and the rest were duplicates. Apparently, an incompatibility between SpamCop's Fetchmail program and EarthLink's mail servers caused the deluge. We solved the problem by changing a setting and telling SpamCop to delete messages from the server. A representative for SpamCop said that the problems we encountered are fairly rare but that forwarding mail to SpamCop usually works more smoothly.
Hold on, pardner
Like other spam products, SpamCop directs your good mail to an in-box and puts spam into a Held Mail folder. If you choose to forward your mail to another address, you'll get only the good mail. But you can visit SpamCop's site at any time to view your held mail, in case the service has blocked mail that should have gone through.
In our tests, SpamCop did a better job of blocking spam than SpamKiller, but it also trapped more messages that weren't spam. Over the course of a week, it passed 86 messages to our in-box and held 44 messages. Of the accepted mail, 3 were pure spam, ads for breast enlargement and penny stocks, for example, and a handful of others were borderline, including unsolicited mail sent from apparently legitimate companies. SpamCop held back 4 legitimate messages; in fact, one was a reply to a message we had sent. SpamCop blocked these because it received complaints about spam originating from the same IP addresses as these messages. So, for example, if a spammer uses an AOL address to route mail, messages from your AOL buddies may also be blocked. This is the biggest flaw in SpamCop's method. On the positive side, SpamCop lifted the blocks a few hours later and also detected a virus attached to a message and deleted it, though it sent the message to our in-box.
Tell the cops
Like other spam products, SpamCop offers a reporting tool so that you can alert the company when errant spam lands in your in-box. But it's not the friendliest process. You have to copy and paste the message header into a form on the site, which returns a page filled with technogibberish. You can also find out why SpamCop blocked a particular IP address, but the process and explanations are far from clear. If you're not comfortable reading e-mail headers, you won't understand what's going on. Newbies and those who want more control over their antispam efforts will do better with a standalone product, such as SpamAssassin Pro.