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Fight Spam With Disposable Email Addresses

Unfortunately, the amount of spam continues to increase. However, there are actions you can take to help curb the insidious flow of junk email. One such action is to use a disposable email address when you need to give out an email address online. Rather than supplying your real email address, you provide an on-the-fly disposable email address that is only used for that particular site. Emails that the site sends to you are then automatically re-routed to your real address.

There are a number of disposable email address (DEA) services available. Some are free while others are charged on a monthly or yearly basis. Different services may offer a different range of options. However, most allow you to easily create DEA's that will last for a specified time period, for a preset amount of messages, or until you "turn them off".

Let's look at an example to illustrate how a DEA service works. I use a free DEA service called Spamgourmet. The following example is based on Spamgourmet's method of creating DEA's. Other services may approach the creation of DEA's differently. However, the underlying concept is the same. Imagine that cat lover Jill comes across a site devoted to cat care. Jill would like to subscribe to the site's free newsletter. However, she's been caught before, and she is wary about supplying her real email address in case the site owner turns out to be a spammer. So, instead, she subscribes using a unique DEA created on the spot.

As long as the address Jill creates adheres to the format specified by her DEA service (Spamgourmet), her subscription to Cat Care Weekly should work fine. She could use an email address like All email that originates from Cat Care Weekly will be sent to that specific DEA before being forwarded to her real address. If Cat Care Weekly sends her spam, she will know immediately and conclusively where it came from. Jill can then terminate the DEA, thereby stopping all future cat care emails before they even reach her inbox. Or she could just wait until the DEA expires when the specified number of messages is reached (10 in this example). On the other hand, if Cat Care Weekly turns out to be legitimate and spam free, Jill can either make the DEA permanent or re-subscribe with her real address. A quite effective spam control strategy!

DEA services do have a few minor problems. Firstly, you need to provide your real email address to the DEA service itself, so an initial level of trust is required. Secondly, since emails must travel via the DEA service rather than directly to your inbox, they may take longer to reach you and there is perhaps more opportunity for the message to get lost in transit. I'd be a little hesitant about using a DEA for very important emails. Thirdly, using DEA's can be a little clumsy at times. You need to be careful that your made up addresses adhere exactly to the service's specified format - otherwise they will not work. Also, forgetting to make a DEA permanent could result in legitimate email being lost.

Overall however, using a DEA can certainly be an effective anti-spam tool. Used diligently, DEA's can really help separate the good from the bad and result in a less spam-ridden inbox. So far, I've found Spamgourmet to be quite reliable and the service has a lot of useful options. However, there are plenty of other services to choose from. has an article that reviews several of the best DEA services.

Last updated: 6th November 2006
First published: 6th November 2006

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen