How To Prevent Getting Spammed: Six Ways to Protect Your Email

Introduction

The issue of how to stop email spam remains as frustrating as it has been even in 2021. With the rise of automated content creation tools and bots, the problem has exacerbated rather than getting alleviated. In that case, how can we tackle this challenge of protecting our mail account(s) from Spam?

Image showing the symbol of email on a laptop screen

Background

Like many people, I have multiple email accounts. Some from the “free” providers. In addition, for gaathastory and my this website, there are separate accounts. Finally, a fourth for the nonprofit work I am involved with. The trouble is, I used to keep getting spam on all of them. So how do you tackle this challenge ? Read below to learn about some methods that I have come across and tried.

How to Stop Email Spam (i.e. Table of contents)

Providers who require you to provide email address

Ways to limit how many people know your email

Conclusion

Providers who require email address for accessing their services

Many Providers Require Email Signup.

Many services require a used to register or provide email address before the site or service can be accessed.

A couple of weeks ago, we were at a government office for obtaining some service. We were required to provide our mobile phone number or email. I chose to provide the latter, because it was lesser of the two evils. After all, phone calls and SMS Spam is a bigger beast than mail spam. Most websites also require you to sign up before you can access their service. Realistically speaking, there is no need to provide my actual address in the majority of cases. But this experience made me wonder if there were any alternative available. Thus began my quest to find a way to obscure of masquerade the real email address.

As I started looking at the available options, a variety of alternatives came up. For sake of simplicity, the service providers have been grouped into six types. These are:

  • Create a domain with aliases
  • Using alias with existing email address
  • Use an email relay or forwarding service
  • Using a temporary or disposable email
  • Using anti-spam software
  • Use a ‘Faux’ address

The question then arises, which option to choose? Before we answer this question, let us take a look at the available options.

Method I. Create a domain with multiple email accounts

First Method to Prevent Email SPAM: using Custom Domain.
This is a relatively simple method, but it requires some level of technical knowledge. We will come to that later.

The way this option works is as follows:

  1. You will need to register a domain or use an existing one. For this post, let us say you have registered a domain called _feed.link_.
  2. Next, sign up for a hosting plan. This can be either for web hosting with mail built in, or for mail hosting only.
  3. After configuring the DNS and MX records, you can start creating accounts. For every account that you create with a service provider, you can create a separate account. For example, _amazon@feed.link_, _facebook@feed.link_, and so on.

You can set up email forwarding to a separate account for _each_ of the services. This account can be with the same domain, or a different one.

For this post, let us consider three scenarios.

a. All emails are forwarded to an email account on same domain. For example, from _amazon@feed.link_ to _contact@feed.link._

b. All emails are sent to an email account on a different domain. Let us consider you have another domain called, _feed.in._ The emails will be forwarded from _amazon@feed.link to_ say, contact@feed.link.

c. All emails are sent to a ‘free’ email account from google, Microsoft, etc. For example, from _amazon@feed.link_ to _feed.link@gmail.com._

How to set up email forwarding?

This is the part where the technical knowledge comes into play. First of all, you need to sign up with a domain registrar. This is followed by registering a domain. You can also use an existing domain that you have. Next, you will have to change DNS entries, typically with your provider.

Third, you will have to sign up for an email hosting plan. I have written in the past about email services including ZohoYandex, etc. The free tiers of most providers are limited, and they may lack some features. These include imap access, or email forwarding. Some providers may limit you to using the web client only.

Email Forarding. Used under Creative Commons CC0

Email Forwarding

I can recommend MXRoute (plans can start as low as 5 US dollars a year) or Rorarii.com. With Rorarii, for one domain, you can get up to 4 email accounts with 10 GB storage each. All for INR 110 or a little over 1.5 US dollars a year!

Email Hosting plans from Rorarii

Pricing plan for email on Rorarii.com

Why should you consider this option?

This option is suitable for you if: you can manage the technical aspects (such as setting up email account and mail forwarding etc.). Or, you have someone knowledgeable to help you. As an alternative, ‘free’ email providers like Yandex allow you to set up email for your domain. I would recommend purchasing a cheap email hosting plan. Particularly if you are planning to use this method for say 10 or 15 different or more service providers.

Does this even work?

In most cases, you will not notice any difference while receiving emails. Imagine a scenario when all of a sudden you start getting emails about Pharmacy or hot dating sites. They are delivered to an account like amazon@feed.link. You will know that someone, somewhere has leaked your data. Or, they have used your email address incorrectly.

This could be an innocent prank by a known person, so do your due diligence before informing the authorities.

You can then change the email address for your Amazon account to _amazon2@feed.link_, and delete _amazon@feed.link_.

What are the downsides?

The above method may seem easy, but it does take time to set things. More time is needed for maintaining the accounts, renewing the domains, and email hosting plans.

Then comes the part of adding more acccounts. Let us say you are signing up with a new provider, such as Netflix. You may have to first login with your email manager and create an account called _nexflix@feed.link._    Next, forward that email as mentioned above. Then you can sign up with Nexflix. This involves additional steps.

If you discontinue some services, you may have to delete those email accounts. Also the mail accounts that may have been compromized.

Finally, you will need a domain registrar that offers privacy protection. In other words, they will keep your contact details private. Otherwise, anybody can run a whois query and find your details. These include email address, phone number, correspondence address and your name.Domain Registrars who provide privacy settings for WHOIS

Results from whois query for a domain. Registrar in this case is Porkbun

Summing it up

These days, domains don’t cost a lot. Particularly if you buy them with some unique top domains. For example, the cyou domain was available on Pork bun for 1 US dollar for quite some time. Alternately, you can get domains at discounted prices. Or even use one of the free domains. This applies particularly when you don’t really want to continue with certain services beyond a point in time. However, because of spamming and abuse, some domains like .tk; .ml and .ga are no longer accepted by a lot of services.

Method II. Using an alias with current email address

Second Method to Prevent Email SPAM: using Email Alias

This option is workable for most people. You can use either a free service provider like Gmail or an email with a custom domain. This option does not require too many technical skills.

Using the above services (Amazon and face book), your email will look something like this:

_feed.link+amazon@gmail.com_ (if using Gmail, similar logic applies for many other service providers)

or

_contact+amazon@feed.link_ (for a custom domain, say feed.link)

Why you should consider this option?

Does this even work?

What are the downsides ?

Using an alias also extends the number of characters in email address. In many online (or paper) in forms or application forms, there may not be much space left for so many characters. Moreover, not all service providers support this feature. Out of the services I subscribe, 10Web, Digiboxx are the two services who do not accept a ‘+ ‘alias. Same is the case with government departments.

Summing it up

To Be Updated

Method III. Using an email relay or forwarding service

Method 3 of preventing Email Spam: Using a relay service

I learned about email relay services when I saw a post for Lastmx on ProductHunt. I signed up for it and set up forwarding from Lastmx to my Gmail address. To the outside world, I use the address that looks something like this:

betatest32io@lastmx.com

Why you should consider this option?

If you are testing out a new service, you are likely to have multiple accounts and sign-up details. For example, test several web hosting and SaaS providers that I come across via ProductHunt, Beta list or Facebook groups. Firefox has also started the Firefox relay service. You have to sign up to Firefox account in order to use this feature. Firefox Relay allows you to create upto 5 email aliases at a time. Any email sent to those email accounts get forwarded to the email you have registered with your Firefox account.

For example, if I use file.link@gmail.com to set up Firefox account, I will be able to use email addresses that look something link this:

abcv95rycp@relay.firefox.com  or 
sfx73need@relay.firefox.com

You can delete 1 or more of the existing email aliases to create new ones. That way, you get a large supply of disposable email addresses. Lastmx, Improvmx (upto 5 accounts) and Firefox relay are free. Improvmx paid tier allows you to use more than 5 email domains.

Does this even work?

In most cases, it works well. I use LastMx, and ImprovMX. LastMX requires you to provide your email address, and _randomid@lastmx.com_ is generated for you. This email address remains exclusive for your use, and all mails sent to this address are forwarded to the email address you had used. LastMX does not require you to sign up or create and account in the free tier. Another service is ImprovMX. Here, you have to sign up and create an account. You can set up email forwarding for up to 5 different email domains.

MX and DNS entries for MXRoute. Blog of Amar Vyas

DNS and MX settings for a domain using ImprovMX

About 80 % of all emails sent to @lastmx.com email account are received in my Gmail account. That is 1 in every 4 gets lost in cyberspace. So far, I have not experienced any problems with the missing emails so far.

Catch-All Email with ImprovMX

In ImprovMX, you can create what is known as ‘catch all’ account. This is an email account where you can forward all emails. Let me explain below.

For example, you can create contact@file.link as a catch all account. An email sent to any id to the @file.link email domain will be forwarded to contact@file.link. This could be

info@

contact@

file@

user@

admin@

or any other email ID.

If you use a free service like Gmail: you can set up a rule that looks something like this.

Emails sent to 
contact@file.link can be forwarded to file.link@gmail.com. 
Or, 
info@file.link can be forwarded to file.link@zoho.com.

Firefox Relay

Firefox relay forwards almost all the emails, no noticeable ‘lost in space’ issues so far. I haven’t tried Altmails or mailhero so far. I recently came to know about Anon Addy, they do have a good set of FAQs or Frequently Asked Questions on their site.
Altmail lets you create and alias for preventing email spam

Signing up for Altmails

The pricing is available in three tiers- free, Lite (US $1 / month) and Pro (US $3/month) The below screenshot shows the features of the different pricing tiers. In order to use this service, you will

“Simply need to add a TXT record to verify your ownership of the domain. Then you will need to add an MX record to your domain so that our server can handle incoming emails. You can then add a few other records to enable sending from your domain too.” (altmails.com)

Pricing plan for addonaddy. Blog of Amar Vyas

Pricing Plans for altmails, Feb 2021

Update Deb 2021: Forwardemail.net is another service that offers email forwarding. They have a freemium plan.

What are the downsides?

You have to provide your actual email address to these providers. Their data can get breached, or sometimes they may send marketing emails themselves. The latter have not experienced it myself so far.

Summing it up

Using a relay service is a good, reliable and robust option. You can start with Firefox relay and build from there. With ImprovMX, one has to configure the MX and DNS settings for email. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it seems to be fairly robust service. The option of using multiple domains and multiple email accounts is great for small teams. This also can work for individuals catering to different clients.

Method IV. Using a Disposable or temporary email address

Fourth Method to Prevent Email SPAM: Using Disposable Email
There are many services that provide temporary or disposable email accounts. Most of them are free, some provide advanced features for paid users. Example of such services are:

There are SaaS providers like Burner Mail who recently have an offer on Appsumo. Another such service is Emailondeck.

Why you should consider this option?

Using a temporary or disposable email is a good option in the following scenarios:

  • You would like to download a book or a case study from a website. Many sites offer such “free” publications in exchange for email address. This is a legitimate and tried and tested email list building strategy. The downside is, that some providers may bombard you with emails. This could be a series of pre-drafted emails. They could also send marketing emails. Or, messages with offers for discounts, coupons, etc. What if you want to check out the report or the case study first? Would you really want to part with your real email address?
  • You are at an airport or a hotel lounge and you have to use their ‘complimentary’ Wi-Fi. In many airports, they ask for phone number. But if you are lucky, they may also have the email option. Pop in a temporary email ID, get the One Time Code, and use the service (ideally, with a VPN).
  • When signing up for a ‘free trial’ service with a SaaS provider, or a similar service
  • While visiting an office or establishment where they ask you for email address
  • During a chat session with sales team, you might be required to provide email address.
  • (more recently) signing up for one of the numerous Zoom calls or Webinars, when you are a participant. (make sure you save the link to the session along with password when you do so!)

Does this even work?

In most cases, the temporary emails work. And they work rather well. This system is obviously not recommended for sending sensitive information or if you want to save or retain the email.

What are the downsides?

But in recent times, more and more providers have started blocking services like temp-mail. Recently, Guerilla Mail was blocked by their service provider for spamming. Any service that offers a good use is prone to abuse by the few, unfortunately the free options come with that caveat.

Summing it up

I would suggest giving these services a try. At a minimum, for testing them out. Obviously not for sending sensitive or critical information, but for normal, innocuous communication, this could be a good solution.

Method V: Using Anti-SPAM software

This section will be updated shortly
Fifth Method to Prevent Email SPAM: Using Anti SPAM Software

Method VI: Use a Faux email address (This is not equal to using a Fake Email !)

Sixth Method to Prevent Email SPAM: Using Faux Email

This method can also be referred to as the “Duh!” method. In this, you can create two email accounts- either with same provider, or with two different providers. Let us say, I create _feed.link@gmail.com_ and _feed.link@outlook.com_ The ‘public face of my email would be say _feed.link@outlook.com_. All messages sent to this email get forwarded to _feed.link@gmail.com_. The latter email address is not shared with anybody else. If you start receiving too many spam emails, you can always close the outlook account.

Why you should consider this option?

Let us say you are not technically inclined, and are tired of email spam in one of your accounts. You can create a different account and start forwarding mails there. You can still use the “send mail as” option from your new service, so that the recipients of your mail will not get confused. (The email headers will of course change, but most people will not notice the difference).

Does this even work?

I actually used this method before getting the gaathastory.com and amarvyas.com email accounts.

You can use a gmail ID to create an outlook.com account. It works perfectly well for me to date.

What are the downsides?

Using this method, you are not really stopping spam, you are merely limiting it. This also involves setup mail forwarding from account A to account B. Configuration of advanced options like “send mail as” is another necessity. If you have created folders, rules and other features of relevance, you may have to do some advanced configurations in the new account. Some email providers may not support this.

Summing it up

Recommended for the novice. This is a simple roundabout way, comes with its own limitations. I leave it at that.

Parting thoughts : Stop Email Spam

When you sign up for different services, such as food delivery, travel, and government departments, you are asked to provide an email address. In many cases, you start getting promotional and marketing emails, most good providers have an option to unsubscribe from their mailing list. Some do not. Some shadier providers do not even have the unsubscribe option. Worse case scenarios are: data breach, provider going belly up, or signing up with a low quality marketing newsletter service. In any of the cases, the email lists can be harvested and you can start receiving spam. There are unscrupulous players who harvest email addresses, or entire mailing lists, and they sell this data in the gray market. There are scripts, bots and AI tools that can always leak your information. Preventing them may be beyond the capabilities of most people.

Using one of the options mentioned in this post, you can masquerade your actual email address. Additionally, you can set strict anti-spam filters. That way, any spam that you get can be either blocked off. Or, you would know where the email leak happened. You can use services like haveIbeenpwned or mine to keep track of data breaches that compromise your email. Services like unroll.me to allow you to unsubscribe from newsletters that you no longer want to read.

Mine is a service that helps you track any possible data breaches

Email alert received from Mine about a potential data breach

Wrapping it up

In this post, we saw six different ways in which one can possibly reduce the amount of email spam. Or, they can masquerade their real email addresses from the outside world. The options I listed are the ones known to me. There may be simpler, reliable methods around, that I am unaware of. The methods mentioned in this post are not foolproof, and each of the options still has a downside. Finally, in case of a major data breach with any provider, your name and other account details can still be accessible to the hacker.

Note that in spite of all these tools, because of historical or legacy reasons, your email addresses might still be floating around. It is practically impossible to update email addressed with each and every service providers. Many of them in fact disable and actively discourage changing email addressed once a user has signed up.

It is worthwhile to use an email alias or masquerade for sake of simplicity. This also helps in keeping track of multiple sign-ups with same or different providers.

For example, I am experimenting with a system in which I use the following aliases:

_contact+provider@feed.link_ or _user+alias@feed.link_

The password is a combination that is unique to that provider. For greater peace of mind, you can use random.org to select a completely random set of passwords for each of the providers. For added security, and enable 2-factor authentication.

Random passwords generated by random.org.Blog of Amar Vyas

Random passwords generated from random.org

Resources: (This will be a continuous Work In Progress)

  1. Also : 5 temporary mail providers (Medium.com)
  2. More random password generators: passwrd.in