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Choose the Proper E-Mail Addresses to Avoid and Control Spam

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 10/15/2008

You can avoid spam by selecting the proper e-mail addresses, and, by using those addresses properly. You’ll need three kinds of addresses, your primary e-mail address, a backup e-mail address, and a disposable e-mail address.

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    Introduction

    Choosing the proper e-mail address is crucial for spam prevention. If you want to take control and minimize the amount of spam you get, it’s important to have three e-mail addresses:

    • Primary
    • Backup
    • Disposable

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    Primary E-Mail

    Your primary e-mail address is the one you give your closest friends and colleagues. It’s the address you’ll use to receive legitimate correspondence. This is also the place you’ll be fighting spam the hardest and with the most resources. Make sure you tell your friends and colleagues not to share this address with anyone. One well-meaning friend who types in your primary address at a greeting card Web site can get you on a spammer’s e-mail list that will only be propagated to others.

    You should be able to get e-mail from your primary address from anywhere, and that includes whether you’re using your laptop in another country, using a friend’s computer, or using your PDA at a wireless hotspot. Here are some guidelines:

    • Your primary address should not be the e-mail address that you get when you sign up for a broadband Internet connection at home. Some of these providers do not allow access when connecting via a wireless Wi-Fi hotspot or from a dial-up connection.
    • If you connect using a dial-up network like AOL, that address is suitable as a primary address. AOL and similar networks have dial-up points of presence around the country, and you can get in from any of them.
    • The best primary e-mail address to have is one associated with a web hosting account. Most web hosting firms offer some number of e-mail addresses (usually 5 to 10). These multiple addresses are good if you ever have to change for spam reasons.
    • You should be able to access your e-mail from the Internet. .Mac accounts offer a fine way to do this.
    • If you have a web site, use the e-mail address associated with your domain name. It looks professional and people can remember it easily.

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    Backup E-Mail

    Your backup e-mail address should be a second e-mail account that isn't associated with with the first, but that you’re able to use just in case your primary address is unavailable. You should choose one that also has spam filtering tools of its own. Good chocies for providers for this address are Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, or a similar vendor. These types of e-mail addresses offer special folders for spam. Here’s the “Bulk" folder for my Yahoo! account. [See Image 1] Notice there are 177 unread messages; these are all spam. However, in a pinch, I can ask friends and colleagues to use this address if my primary address is unavailable.

    The address you obtain from your broadband provider makes a good backup address, as does an address from one of the free Web mail sites. Here are some guidelines:

    • Use your broadband ISP e-mail address or an account with a well known e-mail provider like AOL.
    • Obtain a disposable account from any of the free Webmail services such as Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! (More on using disposable e-mail addresses shortly.)

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    Disposable E-Mail

    You’ll also want a disposable address (or addresses). These are addresses you can cancel at any time and lose nothing. These disposable addresses can be obtained free from various sites on the Internet. Use these addresses when corresponding with vendors, when registering at Web sites, and for similar communication. When the spam finally forces your hand and the address becomes useless, discontinue it.

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    It’s All In a Name

    Spammers pay virtually nothing to send out an e-mail. Spammers can send out millions of e-mails in a single day, so sending out e-mails that don’t actually make it to any recipient doesn’t bother them much. Hence the popularity of the dictionary attack. Spammers simply pick a domain, say Mac.com, and send out e-mails that look like this:

    • Abe@mac.com
    • Abby@mac.com
    • Al@mac.com
    • Alan@mac.com
    • Albert@mac.com
    • Andrew@mac.com
    • Andy@mac.com
    • Ann@mac.com
    • Anna@mac.com

    So the problem, as anyone can see from this list, is that if you have a common ISP, and if you combine that with a common name, you’re going to get hit hard with dictionary attacks. There’s hope, though. Avoiding dictionary attacks is simple, if not foolproof, by following these guidelines:

    • Make sure your e-mail name is not a recognizable word. For instance, instead of Bob@mac.com or Wells@mac.com, try BobWells@Mac.com, or, better yet, make up a word, such as BobsTheBest@mac.com.
    • Stay away from words that aren’t in the dictionary but are well-known such as Gandalf or DrSpock.
    • Stay away from words that are in the dictionary. Period.
    • Don’t use random letters like akslf@mac.com. This looks like a spammer’s address and may cause your e-mail to be passed over and deleted by your recipient’s spam filters.
    • Don’t think a middle initial will help. BobG@mac.com can be caught by spammers. In recent years, spammers have been cycling through first names and middle initials looking for e-mail addresses.

    The basic idea is to choose a name that would be hard to guess, the same way you’d choose a password that is difficult to figure out. For even more protection, put a number or two in there: BobWells2@mac.com.

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    Images