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Summary:

It’s a familiar problem: you want to give someone an email address where they can contact you, or put one on a web site, but you dread the thought of the flood of spam that will follow when that address gets loose in the wild. Fortunately, […]

It’s a familiar problem: you want to give someone an email address where they can contact you, or put one on a web site, but you dread the thought of the flood of spam that will follow when that address gets loose in the wild. Fortunately, problems have solutions. Here are three ways to give someone a way to contact you while dodging the spam bullet:

Use plus addressing: This one works with GMail and many other providers. If your actual address if Chumley@gmail.com, then mail to Chumley+foo@gmail.com will get to you, as will mail to Chumley+43frog@gmail.com, or an address with just about anything else after the plus sign (you may be limited to six characters). If the particular plus-address turns into a spam magnet, create a filter to throw incoming mail away forevermore.

Use a disposable mail service: Try Mailinator, dodgeit, or PookMail (there are others of the same ilk, but those are the best known). No registration required; you just pick an address like SpotTheWonderHamster@mailinator.com and check incoming mail through their web interface or via an RSS feed. Drawback: anyone who guesses your address can check your incoming mail too. These services are great when you want to get one piece of mail from someone like a used car salesman who you never want to hear from again in the future.

Let Contactify do the work: Instead of putting your email address on your web site, take two minutes and sign up for a contact form at Contactify. They’ll give you your own dedicated link to a captcha-protected contact form on their own site. Readers who want to send you a message fill out the form, solve the captcha, and click OK; Contactify forwards the message to your email address, which they never hand out. If you don’t have the skills or software to implement your own captcha, this is a free way to get the same level of protection from address harvesters and spamming robots.

  1. I like the plus address idea. Presumably if you remember which plus address you use for each thing you sign up to, you can complain to them if you get spammed.

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  2. One thing to be careful with on the disposable email address services is that the shelf life of your email is very short – 15 minutes to an hour in some cases. I use Mailinator all the time to register for web sites when I need to get that one immediate email with the validation link – but I wouldn’t use it for any email I actually “needed” to receive.

    For the most part, I’ve just quit worrying about it. Gmail does a good enough job with spam filtering that I simply don’t think about it anymore. I forward all my domain mail to Gmail, then forward my Gmail inbox back to an unpublished email account. 99% of the spam gets stopped at Gmail so I never have to deal with it.

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  3. Gmail, I Love You – Don’t Let Me Down

    I’ve been a Gmail fan long before I  actually migrated to it.  More than a year ago I wrote up a few tricks on how Gmail Can Boost Your Non-Gmail Productivity – this post still gets a lot of hits, although the my Gmail-usage evolved renders …

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  4. [...] by Om Malik Thursday, May 3, 2007 at 12:30 PM PT | No comments WebWorkerDaily: 3 Ways of getting email without spamWebWorkerDaily: The Vacation DilemmaFound+READ: What’s [...]

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  5. A lot of online registration forms don’t recognize email addresses with plus-signs as valid – which has always made it hard to use as an organizing tool. I’ve been wary of using it for a public address, because I don’t know how well all of the webmail apps work with it.
    Contactify is rather non-accessible, and a big hoop to make people jump through. If this is for business shouldn’t your address be as easy to reach as possible? A good spam filter will take care of the rest.

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  6. I like the plus addressing concept as well, but through testing a bunch of email providers, this seems to be a specific feature to gmail… hotmail, yahoo, bell canada, telus and many other providers are not accepting this address format.

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  7. Mike-

    Great tips for helping people cut down on spam but I’d like to throw our hat in the ring for putting your email address in public places.

    I’m a product manager for Boxbe.com, which offers (among other things) a public forwarding address that can be used to post anywhere on the net without fear of getting unwanted email. I use it on my personal blog as well as anywhere I post on the web.

    http://blog.boxbe.com/about-boxbe/boxbe-features-public-forwarding-address

    We don’t use spam filtering at all, we think it’s an arms race that neither side will win. Instead, you whitelist your contacts and anyone not on that list has to either take a test or pay a fee.

    We’re also integrated with Gmail if you use that as a primary account.
    http://blog.boxbe.com/help/how-to/integrating-boxbe-with-gmail

    I’d be glad to tell you more if you are interested.

    Cheers,
    Randy Stewart – randy@boxbe.com
    Boxbe Product Manager

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  8. How about a catch all email address? If you own your own domain, you can typically set things up so that anything@yourdomain.com goes to you. It’s like the + trick, except without the plus.

    Of course, you might get some spam from folks sending email to admin@yourdomain.com, but a good spam engine + procmail can deal with that. If you get a lot of email to, say, addressIgavetospammers@yourdomain.com, simply send that to /dev/null (via procmail–a program it’s worth getting somewhat familiar with).

    I’ve written more about this email setup here: http://www.mooreds.com/wordpress/archives/000219

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  9. [...] and then pick up the (incoming only) mail through their web interface. We’ve covered similar services before; the new feature here is that Slopsbox lets you add your own domains to their list. So if [...]

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  10. [...] 12th, 2008 (2:00pm) Mike Gunderloy No Comments We’ve written before about various ways to keep your email address confidential when sending mail. Now there’s another alternative: akapost, which provides simple email [...]

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