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Figure out which Online accounts are selling your email to spammers

I am constantly infuriated by the amount of spam I get in my email account every day. To quote a friend of mine: “Honestly, this should be the number one issue in the world today. Forget declaring war on random countries, let’s declare war on spam, and institute the death penalty while we are at it!

I couldn’t agree more. So let’s start up a program to figure out who it is that is selling your email address to the spammers. We’ll start with a fresh new Gmail account, because they provide the feature that we are looking for, which is +plus addressing.

Essentially, plus addressing means if your email address is DONOTSPAMME@gmail.com, then you can also receive email on DONOTSPAMME+citibank@gmail.com.

So here’s the plan. For each and every one of your online accounts, you will change your email address to DONOTSPAMME+accountname@gmail.com, where DONOTSPAMME is your actual email name, and accountname is set to the account you are logging into.

For instance, I’ve got the following: (not actual addresses, just an illustration)

Geico: geekervongeekerson+geico@gmail.com

Citibank: geekervongeekerson+citibank@gmail.com

Newegg: geekervongeekerson+newegg@gmail.com

For this to work, you have to make sure that you don’t start flashing this account around. Don’t start posting on newsgroups or anything like that.

Now when you start getting junk mail on this new account, you should be able to immediately see who is selling your address, because it will show up as username+guiltyspammers@gmail.com

If you figure out who it is that is selling your email to spammers, drop a comment into the box below.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 09/27/06

Comments (17)

  1. Rozer

    Yeah i treid to do this but u cnt put a + in the email name.

  2. The Geek

    Some websites may not allow you to do that, but most do.

  3. Rozer

    o i was doinin wrong anyway :D lol thxs

  4. mohawke

    I have been using Gmail as my SPAM filter, which is very effective. I did a write up on my site. I haven’t received a SPAM message since I set this up a couple weeks ago.

    So my question is, why would you want to spend time finding out who is selling addresses? You would be constantly working at it and the point, I think, is to not have to deal with SPAM at all.

  5. Eddie C

    @mohawke: …spite?

  6. caya

    I always use disposeable adresses from http://www.spamgourmet.org. It basically lets you create one-use adresses, forwards the first few emails to that account to an adress you have specified before and throws everything that comes after. Great tool!

  7. Jon Grant

    Great idea, but perhaps spammers will just clean their email addresses of anything after the plus sign? like drop the “+foobar” from: myemail+foobar@gmailcom etc? Cheers, Jon

  8. Do Not Spam Me

    Jon Grant is right plus instead of using plus address, use instead disposable email addresses like from http://www.mailinator.com which gives you a random email address to provide to sites that require one before letting you proceed to whatever you want to do and mailinator would also allow you to check your inbox for let’s say a password for a forum sent to your mailinator address.

  9. Vaibhav

    The problem that i see with this kind of mechanism is that someday if GMAIL just stops this feature, we land ourselves in soup…

    Cheers,
    Vaibhav

  10. Sandra

    @mohawke – I’d be interested to hear more about how you’ve used GMail to filter spam. I setup a Gmail account a year or so ago, but found that more spam landed in the inbox than over at my Yahoo account.

  11. Fred Stevens

    I pay for my e-mail, as it is included with my web hosting fee, and thus I have unlimited e-mail aliases. I have been using what is effectively the same as you have suggested (+addressing) for a number of years now, and it really works well. I have only found one site, though, selling my address when I did not expect it before giving out the address.
    when I do suspect that a site to which I must submit an e-mail address may sell my address, i give out one that I will remember (i even have a txt file with such addresses stored), and if I find out that they really do, I will add a custom filter/rule for my inbox to just delete such messages in addition to reporting them to the appropriate authority. it’s just good business.

  12. Mr Bill

    @Sandra

    I have had the exact opposite experience. Things I specifically tell Yahoo to filter, it doesn’t. Yet GMail filters out about 99%+ of my spam…
    Fortunately, Yahoo increased their box size so I can let the spam go and then just choose the majority of messages in the inbox and hit Delete.

  13. adam

    The downside of this, is those sites you may not visit on a daily basis, in which your “username” (often called login name too, or somesuch) is your e-mail address.

    NOW, you must remember, that you signed up with “dontspamme+geico@gmail.com” instead of “dontspamme@gmail.com”.

    I’ve had this mishap occur on some forums I registered to, thinking I would only be there “temporarily” – i.e.: one time tech question…..well turns out I love the forum, and go there a lot. Well, one day, I forgot my password (I lost my password safe file…lol) and well, the “forgot password” didn’t help much, because i couldn’t figure out what address I signed up with, and whether or not I used plus addressing :P

    Now, if you got in the habit of doing this for “all” registrations, then it’s no problem….but as pointed out above, not all sites allow the “plus addressing” – and also pointed out, it can’t be too hard to programmatically clear out everything between the + and the @ sign :)

    But for those “automated” spammers, sure, you might catch some :)

  14. switch2linux

    i wrote a fairly long comment and it was not taken because i had used subject related words. (trying not to do it again). would you have a list of those words so i can know which ones stopped the comment from being accepted?

  15. john vickrey

    So, if someone BOUGHT your Email address, so they could send you junk; wheres the money & why aren`t people with email accounts getting there CUT ?

  16. randaddy

    @Fred Stevens

    Yes, I think what you are referring to is the ability to set up a catch all email account. You can set up your mail client rules to automatically move the email with a specific address into a folder. This is a great method, as you can just make up whatever email you want (ANYTHING@YOURDOMAIN.COM) you don’t need to add that email on your mail server, instead, you just set up rules to sort the email locally (on your PC, not your server) Pretty straight forward and easy to do.

    Don’t use the catch all email (the main one) for anything, because it will get spammed anyway. You can even give your friends a specific address that lands in your “friend’s” folder. You will also have the peace of mind to know you can check your main (catch all) account if you suspect it contains an important email.

  17. Tumbuk

    Ahha…thats nice.

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