The Spam Source Experiment

Let’s see who’s selling me out.

I get a lot of email and much of it is spam. That’s why I have a special email account I use for anything that’s not important. It’s a disposable account. Every few years, I simply stop using it and create a new disposable account. Then I slowly but surely update my records where I need to. The spam virtually stops.

For a while.

Eventually, it builds up again and I’m back to the point where I need to delete that account and create a new one.

And don’t talk to me about spam filters. Yes, I have one in my email client. Yes, it does work. But no, it doesn’t catch it all and, unfortunately, it misidentifies too much as spam. So I can’t trust it.

The other day, while drivinge, I came up with a novel idea. Instead of creating one disposable email account, why not create one for each organization that asks for an email address? Then use that account for just that organization. And then, when the spam starts coming, I can easily identify its source — it’ll match the name of the account.

I own multiple domain names, each of which can have as many email addresses as I like. So there’s no limit to the number of addresses I can create. And I don’t even have to set them up in my email client software! I can simply check for mail on the web if I’m expecting something. And let it accumulate on a distant server if I’m not.

Verify Address
Sure, this email address is mine. But don’t expect me to monitor it for your junk.

I started this today. I decided to use Microsoft Excel for iPad to maintain my helicopter Hobbs book (a record of hours flown) and Due List (a record of when various maintenance items were last done and next due). In order to access an Excel file stored in Dropbox from my iPad — and be able to edit it — I had to create a Microsoft account. That account needed a valid email address. So I logged onto my server and created one named microsoft @ one of my many domain names. And I used that email address to create the account for Microsoft Excel. I checked the email on the web, got the code I needed to complete the account setup, and am done.

And I never have to see any junk from that account again.

But I can always look if I need to.

Let’s see how far I can take this. I’ll report back, maybe next year.

10 thoughts on “The Spam Source Experiment

  1. Good idea, although I suspect that the answer to the “who’s spamming me” question is going to be “all of them, to some extent”. Not having my own server nor wanting to devote the time to setting up multiple free email accounts I’ve tried a similar experiment with the variable being deliberate misspellings of my name when filling out online forms. The literal nature of the bots means that SeAn goes through just as well as seAN or SEan or Sean, so when I see oddball spellings show up in emails (or snail mail) I’ve got a pretty good idea where it comes from.

    As a wise person pointed out once (it may have even been you), if you’re not paying for an online product, the product is YOU. Our personal information has value, even if it’s just a “live” email account. Unfortunately, this increasingly seems to be considered a legitimate additional revenue stream by the greedier of the corporations. Perhaps in aggregate they consider that few cents they get paid for giving up our emails more valuable than their reputations, especially since it’s normally so difficult for them to get caught selling us out in this fashion.

    • I don’t know if I said that, but I’ve certainly heard it enough. Nothing is free anymore. The cost we pay is our time wading through advertising we didn’t want.

      The other day, I got a 6% discount on the purchase of air filters for my furnace by following a company on Twitter. The first time I saw a tweet from them, I unfollowed them. (Seriously: who wants to read tweets about air filters?) But I’m sure my email address will be sold by that company, too. It’s the price we pay.

      I’ll be deleting that email address very soon now.

  2. An option you can do with Gmail is add a plus sign to the end of your email. Everything after the plus google ignores. So if you had asdf@gmail.com and were signing up for that Microsoft account you could use asdf+microsoft@gmail.com. You’d get the emails to your normal inbox but know exactly where the source of a certain spam got its info.

  3. I’ve had the same email address for nearly 20 years and it’s a good target for spam. I’ve been using alias email addresses for any accounts needing an email for years. That does provide an indication of who the bad guys are. I also use Gmail which has the only effective spam filter I’ve ever found. It shuttles over 400 spam messages a day off to the spam folder where the messages are automatically deleted after 30 days. I never have to see the spam. It doesn’t send many valid messages to the spam folder. If I do end up missing a message, a quick scan corrects the misidentified email messages.I now only see a coupe of spam messages a day and they are marked as spam and don’t return. We need a way to charge the senders for messages so they would be more discerning about who then send messages.

    • I see very few spam messages on my main computer because that’s the one with the spam filtering on it. But if I don’t leave that mailbox running when I’m out and about, those spam messages get into my mobile devices. That’s one reason my throwaway account isn’t set up on my phone.

  4. I’ve been tempted to do the same with my home mailing address for years, but I’ve never bothered to set up a way to track it. I figure I could just add “#101”, “#102”, etc. onto my address, and see where it goes.

    • I’ve often thought of doing something like that, but at this point junk mail doesn’t bother me nearly as much as junk email. I just recycle it. If organizations want to piss away their money on inefficient and antiquated marketing methods, that’s their problem, not mine. They certainly don’t score any points with me.

What do you think?