[HOWTO] Fight Spam With a Disposable Email Address

Category: Email , Spam

Have you ever visited a website that demanded your email address to make a purchase, create an account or gain access to information? I'm sure you have, and in some cases you've probably done so hesitantly, thinking that you might be opening your inbox to a flood of spam. A disposable email address provides a handy solution to this and other privacy problems. Read on to learn more...

Here's Why You Need a Disposable Email Address

It seems everyone wants my email address: Facebook, my bank, my accountant, even the vendors at the local 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 it away, sold it, or lost it in a data breach. 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 messages 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.

Disposable Email Addresses

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, by carelessness, or by theft. Data breaches are responsible for a lot of this. 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 addresss 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 whatever@gmail.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, Craigslist transactions, websites with "squeeze pages" that make you supply an address to continue, and of course the tomato seller at the farmer's market. All mail sent to your plus addresses will go to your whatever@gmail.com 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. Gmail also allows you to insert "." characters in your email address, and effectively ignores them. So if your address is johnsmith@gmail.com, you can use john.smith@gmail.com or even j.o.h.n.s.m.i.t.h@gmail.com and email sent to those dotted addresses will all go to the "johnsmith" inbox.

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 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 and reputable disposable email address service providers:

Sneakemail 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 costs $3/month.

Trashmail 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, etc.). An optional Chrome browser addon makes it more convenient to use the service. Basic service is free, but if you want more than 25 addresses, unlimited forwarding or a permanent address, Trashmail Plus can be purchased for US$21.99/year.

Mailinator: There's no registration, just make up a username and give out the address username@mailinator.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 website.

At Guerrilla Mail, 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. GuerrillaMail has processed over 11 billion messages!

10minutemail: 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.

Do you use disposable email addresses? Tell me how you do it, or if you have another strategy for dealing with this problem. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Fight Spam With a Disposable Email Address"

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
28 May 2020

If you own you own domain name, like www.mydomain.org, you can reduce the amount of spam by giving as email address root@mydomain.org.
Seems most spamming mailers filter out addresses with root@, abuse@, security@, etc...

Posted by:

Larry Soule
28 May 2020


Simpler, easier...

...create a gmail (or yahoo or...) account and use it only for the instances stated in the article.

You NEVER have to check this email if you don't want to.


Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
28 May 2020

If you own your own web domain, like www.mydomain.org, you can cut down on annoying emails by giving as address root@mydomain.org.
Seems most spam email progs filter out addresses with root@, abuse@, security@ etc...

Posted by:

28 May 2020

Great article Bob and I cannot agree more.
We have used disposable addresses for years and have had only a few reasons to close them down due to receiving spam not from the original entity.

One funny thing was a company told us we had provided our email address in the "wrong format" so they would be unable to contact us ... and yet they emailed us at that very address to inform us of that "issue". Apparently it is the + or the - that can cause issues with some systems.

I have never used our real address ever, so we know that is safe unless that company gets hacked.

Firefox offer an excellent service to check up to 14 email addresses for hacking and misuse. Very useful. I recommend it.

Posted by:

Michael S
28 May 2020

Thanks. Always wondered how some of the functions of Gmail worked with the . between the names. And , yes I have a couple of disposable e-mails, Yahoo and AT&T, which I don't think I have checked in years. My work e-mail, I probably get 100 SPAM e-mails a day, my blacklist just keeps growing.

Posted by:

28 May 2020

Similar to Renaud's comment, I own some domain names, and I have created about 200 aliases, so I can use addresses like adobe@domain.com, homedepot@domain.com, rankin@domain.com, etc. Adobe's servers got hacked a few years ago and I started getting spam to my Adobe address. The solution was to simply change that alias. Mail to all of my aliases goes to my one inbox, although I could separate some if desired.

Posted by:

28 May 2020

That is great....THANKS

Posted by:

28 May 2020

Larry S got it exactly right. Simplest, best solution. I've used it for years.

Posted by:

28 May 2020

I've been using Blur (since its original "Mask Me" iteration). Free; masks email, credit cards, phone numbers, also blocks trackers. Masked emails are forwarded to email account of choice. Selecting "block" in the header, disables forwarding permanently (can unblock if desired).

Posted by:

Walter Freitag
28 May 2020

What is the URL for Blur? Blur.com is not it.

Posted by:

28 May 2020

https://www.abine.com/ ?

Posted by:

28 May 2020

Another great coverage. Thank you.
As a supplement to disposable email addressing, it may also be a good idea to acquire a disposable online persona (down to your shoe-size and possibly your blood type). Since not all spam is/are created equal, categorizing them into 3 (or more) different “grades” of spam allows more flexible filtering. For example, assigning grade “a1” to spam to be retained. Assigning grade “b2” to spam that is temporary, and assigning “c3” to spam to be deleted, yield the following results for BobRankin’s examples:
whatever+a1ChaseBank@gmail.com whatever+b2facebook@gmail.com whatever+c3tomato@gmail.com Finding an email service provider which allows both aliasing as well as sub-domaining capabilities is even more awesome.
The "Dot" addressing in gmail seems like a placebo Rx; unless this type of "aliasing" can be equally filterable (as opposed to being automatically parsed as normal addressing and the dots are ignored).

Posted by:

28 May 2020

I have been using the "+" feature at GMail since I learned of this option. One problem I've encountered; some sites will reject an email address using that format (anthing+something at gmail dot com). Other than that plaint, I'm a long-time fan of GMail.

Posted by:

29 May 2020

Smartphone users may also employ disposable, temporary mobile/cell phone (‘burner’) numbers. These pay-apps can be used for SMS-based verification requirements. They should further mitigate spam as well as robocalls, when you absolutely have to provide a mobile number for confirmation codes (etc.)

Posted by:

E. Coot
29 May 2020

I use a totally false email and it works so far. Example: dog@dog.net.

Posted by:

31 May 2020

I have been using 33mail.com for years. (https://www.33mail.com/)
Email address format: anythingyouwant@myaccountname.33mail.com, e.g. AskBobRankin@charlie.3mail.com
Several nice things:
1. You only have to create an account once.
2. The temp accounts get created once 33mail.com receives emails directed toward you.
3. You can tell 33mail.com to kill/stop forwarding any temp account.
I am using the $5/month pricing option. They have a $1/month option and a free option, but with less features.

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