A friend of mine was recently furious with the fact that he was having to change his email (which he’s had for 5+ years) because it was so riddled with spam. He wondered if there was any way to protect email addresses from spammers. He’s not alone. It’s no easy task to protect email addresses because it’s often companies that you do legitimate business with who are putting your information up for grabs.
We’ve all been there: you’ve had your email address for a number years and it’s to the point where you receive more spam than real email on a daily basis. You finally get fed up with it and create a new account. Then – BOOM – within a few weeks you’re getting spam on your new email that barely anyone knows?! WTF?! Chances are good that one of the companies you do business with is responsible.
They Said They Wouldn’t Sell My Email Address
Spam Filters are only Partially Helpful
I haven’t used a spam filter in more than a decade. Let’s be realistic about spam filters, shall we? They don’t work very well and you often have to scan the spam for legitimate messages. For this article, I setup a dummy email account, rigged it up with spam protection, and registered for a couple dozen services around the ‘net. Then I waited 30 days. Unfortunately, the spam filter let a lot of junk through, while also trashing some actually legitimate emails. It seems that enabling spam protection just meant I had another folder to scan for emails. Pointless. Apparently, spam protection still sucks as much as it did a decade ago when I
gave it up invented my own spam protection technique.
Prevent Spam with Ingenuity
If you manage your own email server – or have access to aliases – there’s a clever trick you can use to root out the offenders and protect email addresses. I use DreamHost, – and yes, that’s my affiliate link – where I get unlimited email boxes and forwarding addresses without paying anything extra. So, here’s what I do:
I setup a primary account (email@example.com) and then setup a bunch of aliases that forward to that same account. I create a unique alias for each company that gets my email. So, for example, I’ll have aliases of, say, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc. In actuality, I’ve got many, many more aliases than that; this is just an example. Then, if I get spam at, say, firstname.lastname@example.org, I immediately know Verizon was the culprit who shared/sold my email address. And that’s when I take action.
Aliases are a Thing of Beauty
There are no consequences to deleting an email alias. Once deleted, the spam has nowhere to go – except back to the sender with an error. It seems logical that the spammer would delete the email from their database at that point, but that’s just a guess. Let them sell my email alias all they want. Fortunately, if I ever do need that email address again (such as to retrieve a forgotten password at the site), I can just re-create the alias for 10 minutes, get the email I’m expecting, then delete the alias again.
This technique does take some footwork, but it will reveal which entities are throwing your privacy to the wind. There’s no way to prevent these companies from spreading your data around, but, fortunately, you now have a method to root out the offenders and keep that spam under control. For the win!
What do you think?
I’m really curious to know if anyone else has clever tricks for thwarting spammers!? Do you still use spam protection? Does this technique seem feasible for your situation, or too much work? Or are you already thinking about all the aliases you’re going to create? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments!