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Summary:

Simon recently wrote about tempalias, one of a growing number of services that lets users create temporary email addresses. If you want to be able to create your own temporary email addresses without having to use such a service, here’s an old trick that I use.

Simon recently wrote about tempalias, one of a growing number of services that lets users create temporary email addresses. If you want to be able to create your own temporary email addresses (also known as aliases) without having to use such a service, here’s an old trick that I use. It takes a little setting up, but once operational, it’s even easier than adding + signs to email addresses to create aliases.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A domain name that you don’t use for anything else. If, for example, your main domain name is my_domain.com, you could purchase or activate something like my_domain.net.
  • Any email server that allows you to create “catch-all” accounts. For this example, I’ll use Google Apps Standard Edition because it’s free, but there are lots of other services that will also work.

Setup is reasonably simple, and takes around 10 minutes:

  1. Select a domain name. If you’re like me, you probably own several domain names that you aren’t using for anything. Otherwise, you can buy a domain from Google in the next step.
  2. Sign up for Google Apps Standard Edition. During the signup process, you’ll be asked if you want to use an existing domain, or if you want to buy one for $10 per year.
  3. If you’re using an existing domain, you’ll need to point its DNS records to Google; follow the directions in the Google signup screens.
  4. Once the Google signup is completed, you’ll be taken to the Google Apps Dashboard. Click on “Users and Groups,” then “Create a New User,” and enter the desired username. In this example, we’ll create the username “catchall”.
  5. Now go to the main menu and select Service Settings, Email. Under “Catch-all address” select “Forward the mail to:” and type in the username you just created in step 4 (“catchall” in this example). Save the changes.

Now any email sent to any address on that domain will be forwarded to “catchall@my_domain.net”. Whenever you need to provide an email address to sign up for a service, you can use the name of the service you’re signing up for as the the first part of the email address. For instance, if you want to sign up at Website X, you could provide it with the email address “websitex@my_domain.net,” which will automatically be forwarded to “catchall@my_domain.net.” You’ll be able to check email sent to “catchall@my_domain.net” using the Google Apps web interface, and if Website X turns out to be a spammer, you can simply use Google Apps’ filter function to delete all the email that’s addressed to “websitex@my_domain.net.”

If you don’t wish to go to the trouble of checking the catch-all email account through the Google Apps web interface, you could use an add-on like Gmail Manager for Firefox (part of the WebWorkerDaily Firefox Add-Ons Collection), which can automatically keep an eye on one or more accounts for you.

How do you avoid spam?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Email: The Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

  1. The best part is the confused look at the bank or store when you you give them your email address, example BofA@mydomain.com . “Wait do you work for the bank?”

    Then when you starting getting their spam or they sell your address you can forward it to their abuse dept. (where nothing will ever come of it).

    Old trick I have been using for years.

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  2. Nifty little tip! I’m setting up mine as I type this, thanks again for sharing.

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  3. I’ve been using this approach for years… Works quite well :)

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  4. Good idea except for the fact that once spammers find your domain, they start trying loads of addresses like sales@mydomain.net, info@mydomain.net, enquiries@mydomain.net etc and then you still have to go back and filter these out. I also used to create aliases, but in the end I decided to simply invest in a good spam filter.

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  5. It works well until someone starts spamming aMillionRandomAdresses@my_domain.net, as happened to me. Then you get a spam avalanche.

    Much better to NOT use a catch-all address – just add the addresses you want to the auto-forward list and send everything else to some null location.

    A second benefit of that method is that if someone legitimate gets their account hacked or sells the address you gave them on to spammers, you can take them off the auto-forward list.

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    1. I’d agree that’s a better approach, but it then means having to set up each address that you want to use, which seems like too much effort to go to just to sign up to some free service you might only use once.

      Perhaps a way to do it would be to have selection of addresses that autoforward that you use to sign up for random services with (dontspamme1@mydomain, dontspamme2@mydomain, etc.) then as each one gets too much spam, you could retire it. You could even have a script that auto-retires temporary aliases after a specified number of days, which would give you the same results as the tempalias service that I wrote about.

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  6. Using catchall increases spam and bandwidth usage. We are already swamped by spam as it is. Plus addressing is a far better way of reducing spam while allowing you to use aliases on the fly. hmailserver.com has a free windows mail server that supports plus addressing and has a staggering arsenal of spam fighting abilities already built-in, I suggest using that.

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  7. Google Apps already has such great spam protection that I continue to use a spam@mydomain.com as my “public” address (get a lot of odd looks for that one) and Google’s excellent spam filters pretty much keep the spam out of my box.

    If someone like a BofA starts “spamming” me, they’re usually legit enough that the unsubscribe link on the email actually works (they don’t want to run afoul of the “CAN SPAM” act after all). Non-legitimate spamming is blocked very well by Google’s spam filters anyhow.

    My email address has been in use for more than a decade. Before Google Apps, I was getting 100+ spam messages a day. After I moved my domain to GMail, I get maybe 1 or 2 a week, if that.

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  8. Meh… Isn’t it easier to have some free email like my_spam_mail@gmail.com or my_spam_mail@yahoo.com or anything and give that mail when registering for websites that mean nothing for you??
    I have like 4 mail boxes and two of them are for things that i care about and 2 for things I don’t care.

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  9. Good idea, but think the steps outlined are overkill and don’t require Google. If you purchase a domain, typically it comes with free email. GoDaddy does this, with .info domains as low as .99.

    Then, just set up the email with mail@[domain name] or whatever, check the Catchall box and you are set. You can either check tam account directly or also have it forwarded to another address.

    my company creates does this for every customer.

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