Track Spammers using Gmail

I hate spam.  I’m sure you hate spam.  I’ve spent a significant amount of my personal time working on solutions to combat spam.  I’m fortunate, in that I run my own mail server, and can therefore deploy a variety of spam fighting techniques.  My current mail server is running:

In general, these technologies work pretty well.  However, spammers are constantly finding ways around them, and I still get a few spam emails (3-5) every day.  That number isn’t too shabby when you think about it, since I’ve had the same email address now for 14 years.  One of the most effective tools I’ve found for fighting spam?  Don’t give out, or publish, your real email address, anywhere.  My friends and family know it of course, but that’s about it.  Whenever a website or a merchant asks me for an email address, I make up a unique one for that site, and give it to them.  I then build an email alias for that address pointing it to my real email.  That way I don’t miss any emails from that merchant, but I also know if someone starts using that email incorrectly.

Tracking Merchants with Gmail

Recently I found out that Gmail offers a similar service.  To begin using this feature just follow these three steps, yep, just three:

  1. Come up with a unique identifier for the vendor (e.g. flowers)
  2. Add the unique identifier, preceded by a “+” to your existing GMail address (e.g. [email protected])
  3. Give the address, [email protected], to your online flower shop

Now, if you see an email arrive in your mailbox addressed to “[email protected]” you know that email address should only be in use with your online flower merchant.  If you see it being used by someone else, you know for a fact that your online flower merchant sold, or gave, that address to them.  Just be sure to not re-use the same alias for multiple merchants, because then you won’t know for sure which one violated your personal privacy.

Another great use for this capability in Gmail is that you can now filter your emails based on the address they’re using to email you.  Just select a message you’ve received (tick the checkbox), then:

  1. Click the More actions menu
  2. Select Filter messages like this these
  3. Enter the email address that you gave the merchant in the To: field
  4. Select filter actions for your messages

Now you have your own spam fighting tool!

Merchant Email Hall of Shame

The Merchant Email Hall of Shame is my listing of the Merchants that violate my personal privacy by selling my email address to spammers without my permission. “Wait a second” you say, “How do you know they’ve sold your address?”. The answer is simple: I followed my own Blog post and gave a unique email address to each of them. Since they’ve violated my personal privacy, I’m going to post their original contact information to this table. You should beware doing business with these people. I’ve also added a Mail List Provider to my table, because I’m already seeing some commonalities in my first entries.

Ultimately, I gave my information to the Merchant, not the Mail List Provider, so it is their responsibility to keep it safe.  I will be updating this table as I find additional violations of my trust.

Vendor:Derek Beachler
Vendor Email:[[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])
Website:N/A
Mail List Provider:aweber.com
Email Sold:[email protected][mydomain]
Result:Received a Facebook password reset phishing message
Vendor:Matt Campbell
Vendor Email:[[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])
Vendor Website:http://howtomakeiphoneapps.com
Mail List Provider:aweber.com
Email Sold:[email protected][mydomain]
Result:Received a Facebook password reset phishing message
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