What You Need to Know About Disposable Email Addresses

How temporary email addresses can tame spam

Disposable email address services promise to eliminate spam while leaving good mail untouched. Here's what you need to know to make disposable email deliver on that promise, and use throwaway aliases to your advantage.

Use Your Email Address, Get Spam

If you hand out your email address, you might get spam back. As soon as you enter your email address in a form on the web, you lose control of it. Most probably nothing bad will happen, but they may just as well use the address to spam you, or they hand it to spammers for a few bucks.

Yet many sites require an email address to function properly, or to function at all. It looks like either you are excluded from a good part of the web (from online shopping for example, and from getting announcements via email) — or you get spam. A genuine dilemma.

Of course, you could use a free account instead of your primary email address, but that only moves the problem from one email account to the other.

Get Spam, Throw Away Your Disposable Email Address

Disposable email address services take the idea of the web-based email account a step further. The problem is distributed to an unlimited number of disposable email addresses, and the deluge of spam can be controlled. How is this possible?

When you sign up for something on the web with a disposable email address, you don't use your real email address but an alias of it. Every alias is created specifically for a site or mailing list, and the disposable email address becomes associated with it.

By default, all aliases of your real email address forward any mail to that real address, just as if you had used your primary email address in the first place.

But as soon as spam trickles in, the difference shows. Since every disposable email address is given only to one site and associated with it, the source of spam can be identified easily. Taking proactive measures against any further spam from that site (or the spammers it sold the submitted address to) is just as easy. The alias guilty of delivering unsolicited email is disabled or even deleted. It will no longer accept any messages and no spam.

Fantastic, isn't it? And it really works. But there's one source of spam where even disposable email addresses don't seem to help much: your website.

Disposable email addresses require that you have control over who you give the aliases. If you have a website and want visitors to contact you via email, you have to make a "real" address available there.

If you use a disposable email address on your site, you can disable it as soon as spammers have discovered it. Of course, you have to give every welcome contact their own alias (or your real email address) so they can continue to send you mail even if you disable the alias they originally used to contact you. Fortunately, this can be as simple as using the new address in the Reply-To: header.

Some disposable email address services also allow you to set up a white list of senders that are always allowed to send you mail at any disposable email address. This has the small disadvantage that spammers might by chance or by whatever other means guess such address and get through with their spam, though.

Alternatively, you could use aliases that automatically expire. If a new disposable email address appears on the site every day, for example, they all could be set to expire after a week or so.

Use Disposable Email Addresses, Eliminate Spam

Either way offers a relatively simple, but very effective weapon against spam. If you are consistently and exclusively using disposable email addresses on web forms, in forums, on Usenet and in discussion groups, with your contacts and on your own web site, we believe you can curb spam with a disposable address to an absolute minimum.

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