Fight Spam with a Disposable Email Address
It seems everyone wants my email address: Facebook, bank, accountant, even the tomato vendor at the farmer’s market. It’s no wonder my spam filter is so busy, but I do wonder which of the many entities that have my email address gave, sold, or lost it to spammers. Disposable email addresses can help you tell who the untrustworthy contacts are.
A disposable email address is a temporary or anonymous email address that can forward mail to your permanent address. Ideally, any replies you send are relayed back through the disposable email address to the original sender, who never learns your permanent address. If unwanted emails suddenly start arriving through the disposable email address, you can stop it by deleting or filtering that address.
You can have one disposable email address for every entity that requires an email address, if you like. Then if spam starts coming from a given disposable email address, you can be pretty certain who’s responsible.
It’s possible that a spammer just randomly generated an email address that matched one of your disposable email addresss, but it’s MUCH more likely that the entity to which you gave the disposable email address shared it, willingly or by theft. Having narrowed down the security leak to one entity, you can investigate and decide whether to give that entity another disposable email address or steer clear of it.
Plus Addressing and Other Options
There are several ways to create disposable email addresses on your own. Some are free, and some are a lot more work than others. My favorite is “plus addressing” with Gmail, which lets me make up a disposable email address on the spot for whoever wants it. Here is how plus addressing works, and some limitations on this technique.
Let’s say your email address is email@example.com. Add a “+” sign and any string of characters between “whatever” and the @ symbol, for example, whatever+ChaseBank@gmail.com. Now give that address to your online Chase Bank account. Repeat the process for Facebook, newsletter subscriptions, online stores, websites with “squeeze pages” that make you supply an address to continue, etc. All mail sent to your plus addresses will go to your firstname.lastname@example.org inbox.
If you start getting unwanted emails at the plus address, just create a Gmail filter to send them to the Trash. For extra points, create a filter to funnel the mail from each plus address to its own Gmail folder. Just keep in mind, this trick works well for automated systems that send to you, but can be defeated by humans who are clever enough to remove the “plus” portion of the address. Also, when you reply to a message sent to one of your plus addresses, the From line will be your standard Gmail reply address, not the plus address. Not all websites will accept a Gmail address with a plus sign, but it works most of the time.
The plus sign trick also works with Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) but Yahoo uses minus signs and makes the process a bit more difficult. See this page on Disposable Addresses in Yahoo (https://help.yahoo.com/kb/mail-for-desktop/SLN16026.html?impressions=true) to learn how it works.
Another option, if you have your own domain and receive email there, is to create email aliases. That’s outside the scope of this article, but your web host or domain registrar can provide details on whether that feature is offered, and how to set it up.
Disposable Email Address Services
Yes, it is a lot of work to set up and maintain disposable addresses for all the entities with which you communicate via email. Fortunately, there are numerous disposable email address services that handle most of the heavy lifting for you.
Here are some of the established disposable email address service providers:
Sneakemail (http://sneakemail.com) bills itself as “The Original Disposable Email Address Company,” and offers to hide your address from spammers and others you’d rather not be dealing with. If someone wants your email address, and you have qualms about providing it, login to Sneakemail and create a new address. If mail is sent to your Sneakemail address, it will be forwarded to your real address. Sneakemail also creates an alias for the sender of your incoming messages, so if you reply, only your Sneakemail address will be exposed to the recipient. Sneakemail is free for the first month, and then $2/month thereafter.
Trashmail (http://trashmail.com) receives emails and forwards them to your permanent address. When you set up a disposable email address on Trashmail, you can set a limit on the number of emails that can be received or the number of days that may pass before the disposable email address expires. Your disposable email address can be a username of your choosing on trashmail.com, or 10 other domain names (trashmail.me, trashmail.at, trash-mail.at, rcpt.at, kurzepost.de, wegwerfmail.de, wegwerfmail.net, wegwerfmail.org, objectmail.com, proxymail.eu). An optional Chrome browser addon makes it more convenient to use the service. Basic service is free, but if you want more than 300 addresses, unlimited forwarding or a permanent address, Trashmail Plus can be purchased for US$12.99/year.
Mailinator (http://mailinator.com): There’s no registration, just make up a username and give out the address email@example.com. That address will be created on Mailinator’s server when someone sends mail to it. Just be aware that Mailinator inboxes are public, so anyone can read mail sent to that address (but only if they know the username). After a few hours, all mail is deleted. So Mailinator is a free, easy, on-the-fly disposable email address service useful for online forums and other sites that require one-time registration. You just go to Mailinator.com to respond to the “confirmation” email sent by the forum or site.
At Guerrilla Mail (www.guerillamail.com) you can choose a username and one of ten domain names for your free temporary email address. (My favorite is sharklasers.com) Like Mailinator, messages are public, and are held for one hour before they are deleted. One nice feature is that you can scramble your email address, to make it harder to guess. GuerrillaMail also lets you reply to incoming messages. There’s also a free Guerrilla Mail app for mobile phones, on the Google Play store.
10minutemail (http://10minutemail.com): Load up this site, and you immediately get a free random email address that vanishes after 10 minutes. You can get a 10-minute extension if you need it. Just refresh the page to see any incoming messages for your temporary address. View, delete or reply to any new messages that appear.