Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Asking someone not to spam you when handing over your email address is probably ineffectual. Consider carefully before you give out your information.

Please do not have your third parties send me junk emails or advertisements! I get enough!

Though it's not actually a question - more like a directive - it was included with a question. A question where, naturally, the questioner gave me their email address.

As a way to stop spam, I think it's important to realize that simply asking people not to spam you likely won't work.

Here's why...

Whenever you give anyone your email address, be it me, an online store, a mailing list, whatever, you need to think for a moment about exactly how much you know about them, and whether or not you want to trust them.

I'm legitimate, and I don't spam. I'm not going to give your email address to third parties.

But I could be lying.

And if I was lying, what do you think I'm going to do with a request that asks me politely not to spam? I'm going to ignore it.

"If someone is going to spam you or sell your information to third parties they're going to do it whether you ask nicely or not."

If someone is going to spam you or sell your information to third parties they're going to do it whether you ask nicely or not.

You need to know who it is you're giving your email address to. Use a "throw-away" or junk email address for people you don't trust. And that includes me. Until you feel comfortable that I am what I say I am, and that I'm not going to spam you, don't use your primary email address - use an alternate.

This is one of the things that free email accounts are perfect for - set up a Hotmail account and use it for this. If it gets tons of spam, so what? You look for the specific reply from whom you expect it, and then ignore it the rest of the time.

With spam being as rampant as it is these days, you need to take extra steps to protect your inbox.

Asking politely that someone not spam you is, sadly, not the way.

Article C3499 - September 12, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Mark , Grater Washington D.C. area
September 12, 2008 9:37 AM

Not that I am a fan of Hotmail these days, but they have this nifty feature of being able to link multiple accounts. I have one that I use for important things, and then another account linked to it that I give out to questionable places. Easy access, but an account that I can cut loose if and when needed.

Jason Zions
September 12, 2008 3:31 PM

Also, be really cautious about clicking the "Click here to remove yourself from our mailing list" link. Disreputable bulk emailers (honest, that's not an oxymoron) use that information to confirm that your email address is "live", i.e. connects to a real human being; they can sell your address to spammers for more money than an unvalidated email address.

Of course, you probably shouldn't ever click on any link in a spam email, but that's another story.

Ray
September 12, 2008 8:46 PM

This is another reason to get a domain through a hosting service like GoDaddy or Hostmonster. Not only can you keep e-mail addresses when changing ISPs, whenever you have to give out an e-mail address, you can create a new one on the fly and have it forward it's inbox to a primary address. If you start getting annoying e-mails, just delete the account and the forward. This is a useful variation on Leo's suggestion.

Ziggie
September 15, 2008 5:44 AM

Too many spammers are masking the To address anymore to make separate accounts forwarding to the primary account viable.

POP3 works still, but I imagine it won't be long til someone figures a way around that too.

Ray
September 16, 2008 8:56 PM

Ziggie -

I'm not sure what your getting at. I think your confusing forwarding rules in an e-mail client like Outlook with separate email accounts and forwarding rules set up on a server processing incoming e-mail; normally such a server wouldn't do anything with the data following the "To" tag in e-mail headers anyway. Also, the "To" tag isn't even required, I've received both spam and legitimate e-mails that don't contain the tag.

What is required is a destination e-mail address in the header. Without one, how would mail servers know where to send the e-mail? That's why the method I suggest works very well if you have your own domain and can generate as many e-mail accounts as you like.

Rocco
September 16, 2008 11:21 PM

Get the "Mailwasher" program that will allow you to block and bounce any email you choose to.

http://www.mailwasher.com/

Nick
September 17, 2008 2:00 AM

I'm confident you won't spam me Leo, however the fact is that I still get spam addressed to this disposable email address that I set up solely for your newsletter. What I don't understand is, since you are the only one I've told the address, and you don't pass it on, how come I'm getting spam, in particular from "4408 McLean Rd Haltom City TX 76117"? This gets filtered into my Trash folder, BTW!

I don't know.

But I agree it's odd, and unnerving for both of us.

Turns out I was at a conference that included someone from my email mailing list provider, and we checked everything out. Everything looks fine. If there were a true breach we'd expect to hear a rash of complaints, and I've seen 2.

So I'm not sure what to say.

While they're unlikely, I have taken your comment and turned it into an article detailing some of the ways that even playing by the rules your email address could still get stolen: Why am I getting spam on this email address I use only for one newsletter?

-Leo

Terry Hollett
September 17, 2008 12:26 PM

To Nick: I have a GMAIL account that I've never gave to anyone or even used but there are around 3000 spam emails in the Spam folder at my account at gmail.com. Its just the tricks of spammers and weakness' in the systems.

Camran Manikfan
October 24, 2012 8:26 AM

Yup, the idea of a disposable email address is a good (and probably only) one to check for spam. However, in case there are readers who dislike going through the drill of having to go to the sign up page and fill up all those fields and shift their attention for five minutes, this site: www.10minutemail.com can save you time.

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