Spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) is a growing problem for remodelers. Spammers are experts at harvesting e-mail addresses and at concealing their own identities, which makes them hard to track. Much spam originates offshore, so rarely enforced U.S. regulations often don't even apply. Because the senders hide their origins, your Internet service provider is equally powerless. It's up to you to take back your inbox.

Cloudmark SpamNet connects your MS Outlook to a free online community that blocks spam by consensus. If enough members "block" a particular message, that message is flagged as spam and subsequently diverted to a "spam" folder each time a SpamNet member receives it. SpamNet allows you to unblock legitimate mails you find in your spam folder. A drawback is SpamNet only works with Outlook.

IHateSpam is spam-filtering software that, like SpamNet, filters spam into a quarantine folder you can check for legitimate mail. But IHateSpam also provides users control, including options to create "friends" and "enemies" lists, raise or lower the filter's aggressiveness, and even add your own criteria to its pre-programmed guidelines. IHateSpam works with Outlook and Outlook Express (with limited functionality). $29.95 at

SpamArrest, another online service, intercepts spam before you get it. The first time someone sends you an e-mail, SpamArrest sends back a message to which the sender must personally respond to verify his identity. Most spammers use automated software that can't respond to the request. SpamArrest passes on verified messages and holds the rest online. You can verify held e-mails manually or SpamArrest will delete them after a few days.

SpamArrest is the best of this bunch, but like most online services, it's not without warts. During my trial, a server failure left me without e-mail for several hours. $9.95 for six months at --Joe Stoddard, a technology consultant to the construction industry, can be reached at