Every time you give out your e-mail address, you take a risk that your address will get on spammers’ lists and you’ll be bombarded with junk mail.
As a test (which I’ll describe in my Datamation column in a few weeks), I entered an e-mail address into a signup box at one of those “get a free laptop” promotional sites. In less than six weeks, the address I provided was hit with more than 1,000 junk messages — over 23 per day — and they show no sign of slowing down.
I was willing to risk my Inbox being overrun in this way because I used a "disposable" e-mail address. This is an address with a different keyword that you add for each Web site or personal correspondent. Such addresses make it easy for you to filter incoming mail into different folders, if desired. To prevent “dictionary attacks,” any mail sent to you without a valid keyword can be rejected. And, if an address you gave out is abused by spammers, as my test address was, you simply make all mail to that address bounce (as I eventually did to the promo site).
Disposable addresses let you register for free services on the Web without fear. At the same time, you get strong protection against spammers.
Protecting yourself against spammers and harvesters
My recently revised e-book, Spam-Proof Your E-Mail Address (see below), describes easy ways to encode any address you place on a Web site. This prevents your addresses from being collected by "harvester" programs. Harvesters are software bots that scour the Internet, copying e-mail addresses and adding them to spam databases. Studies show that harvesting is the most common way spammers build up their multi-million-name lists.
Keeping harvesters from getting your address is important, but you also need to protect any addresses you enter into forms at Web sites. In the e-book’s 2nd edition, I mentioned SpamGourmet.com, one of dozens of services offering disposable addresses. SpamGourmet allows you to insert an integer number up to 20 when inventing a new address. For example, I might register at Amazon using an address like the following:
In that case, SpamGourmet would accept no more than 20 messages from Amazon before deactivating the address. This number allows you to receive confirmation notices and the like, but your alias would automatically shut down if Amazon started sending you a lot of junk. If desired, you can configure certain addresses so SpamGourmet doesn’t stop at 20 messages but will forward to you an unlimited number from contacts you trust.