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Throw-Away Email Addresses

A couple weeks ago I received an email from a company which sells homeschool curriculum online. The purpose of the email was to let me know that they were having a 70% off sale on their homeschool materials.


Never mind that I don't have children, and am not a homeschooler; apparently they thought I might like to buy their materials anyway.

A few minutes later I received a duplicate email, from the same email address (????@hotmail.com). Then, twenty minutes later, I received a third, identical email from the same address. This was getting really annoying.

If it had stopped there, it might not have been worth writing about, but a couple hours later, I received another set of three emails. These were from a different email address (????@yahoo.com), and they were advertising a different product--an ancient history curriculum unit.

At this point I was really irritated, and ready to fight. But I hate to cause problems for companies which may be providing a real and valuable service, so I decided I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I fired off the following email:

Good day,

This morning I have been spammed 6 times from the following email addresses:

????@hotmail.com, ????@yahoo.com

These spam emails all directed me to the ????.com website.

I would like to express my disappointment that you would operate in this fashion.

Under normal circumstances I would have asked both hotmail and yahoo to terminate the offending accounts, however, I am not doing so in this case; I would like to extend to you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you are unaware that you are engaging in inappropriate activities. Regardless of what you may have been told about the legality of unsolicited email, if you continue in these practices, in the long run you will destroy your reputation, and your credibility among your customer base.

I request that you refrain from such behavior in the future, and want you to know that if I continue to receive these unsolicited emails (on this, or any other of my email addresses), I will not only contact hotmail and yahoo, but I will also ask all my ISPs to blacklist the ????.com domain.

Note: if the two offending email addresses are not associated with your company, I would recommend that you report them to hotmail and yahoo, to have them terminated. If they are allowed to continue, they will cause your company to have a reputation on par with the scammers, spammers, and porn sites which we have all grown to detest. If you need help in reporting them, please let me know; I will be glad to assist you.

Thank you for your time. I wish you all the best as you strive to improve the quality of your business.

Regards,
Douglas Twitchell


Well, I waited to hear back from them. I waited one day, then two days. Then I finally got an email from them. This time it came from ????@webemails.com. And...you guessed it--there were three copies of it!

At this point I did what I probably should have done in the first place; I fired off emails to hotmail, yahoo, and webemails, informing them of the abuse of their email system. I'll tell you how I did that in just a minute.

But first, I want to point out something interesting; when I visited the ????.com website, I noticed that they had an email address associated with their domain: Info@????.com. So why didn't they use that email address to spam me about their products? There are two reasons for this. First, it's that old 'plausible deniability'. If the email address isn't associated with their domain, it's not easily traceable to them. They can always lie and say "That email address doesn't belong to us; someone else must be using it to make us look bad." The second reason is, these email addresses are free, which means they can be easily thrown away if necessary. I call these 'throw-away addresses'.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no reason for a company which has their own domain to use throw-away addresses other than their desire to protect their own domain while they engage in inappropriate business activities.

Whenever you are spammed by someone, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is "Is the domain of the email address the same as the domain of the site they're referring me to?" If the answer is "No", then it is likely that they are using throw-away addresses for the reasons stated above.

So what should you do? The good news is that almost every one of the major 'free email' providers has an abuse department, and they want you to report offenders. Why? Well, why would a company give out free email addresses in the first place? Because it's good advertising for them. But when a spammer is using their service, it becomes bad advertising. If I receive spam from hotnakedchicks@yahoo.com, this reflects badly on Yahoo. And they don't want that!

If you use Outlook for email, the following are step by step instructions on reporting spammers to the major players in the 'free email' game (lycos.com, hotmail.com, yahoo.com, webemails.com, eudoramail.com, aol.com, earthlink.net, etc.)

Open the email message.
From the 'View' menu, select 'Options'
Near the bottom of the window you will see 'Internet headers'. Select the information in this field, and copy it onto the clipboard (press CTRL-C).
Now close the options window
Click 'Forward' on the email message.
Type 'abuse@???' in the 'To' field. (??? is 'hotmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.)
At the top of the forwarded message, paste the information in the clipboard (press SHIFT-INS)
Now send the message
That's it! The first few times you do it, it'll take a few minutes, but after you've done it a few times it'll become easy and automatic, and it won't take more than a few seconds of your time to report a spammer.

There are two obvious questions you should be asking at this point. The first question is "Does it work?" The answer is "Generally, yes." When I get multiple spams from the same email address, I will report each email. In the case described at the beginning of this article, here is the first response I received from hotmail.com:

This is an auto-generated response designed to let you know that our system received your support inquiry and a Support Representative will review your question and respond to you soon. Please note that you will not receive a reply if you respond directly to this message.


Just a few hours later I received the following response to my second report:

This is an auto-generated response designed to answer your question as quickly as possible. Please note that you will not receive a reply if you respond directly to this message.

Unfortunately, we cannot take action on the mail you sent us because it does not reference a Hotmail account. Please send us another message that contains the full Hotmail e-mail address and the full e-mail message to: abuse@hotmail.com


In other words, they canceled the hotmail account, so it no longer existed when they tried to deal with my second report. Congratulations to hotmail for their very swift response to abuse!

The second question you should be asking is: "If they can just get another 'thow-away' email, isn't this a waste of my time?" The answer is "No!". The reason spammers exist is because they are convinced that it is an effective form of marketing. But if--within hours of their first bulk mailing--their account is canceled, and they have to go through the process of creating a new account, how long do you think it'll be before they give up, and stop acting like idiots?

And even if they never give up and grow up, there's a certain sense of satisfaction in knowing that you're causing them as much irritation as they're causing you.