How To Manage Disposable Email Addresses With Gmail

Having a spare email address is useful for web sites that demand your details but which you suspect will then bombard you with unwanted messages. With Gmail, you can keep your main address and still use your account for ‘disposable’ addresses as well.

Granted, it’s not particularly difficult to set up a brand-new ‘disposable’ email account with one of the many free email providers (Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! being the most obvious options), and use that for trying out services. However, that means managing an entirely separate account and remembering to log into it regularly to make sure it doesn’t expire. And if you sign up for a mailing list or site that does prove useful, switching it back to your most active email account is another nuisance. If you’re already a regular Gmail user, setting up a ‘disposable’ address as part of your main account is a much simpler solution.

Doing this takes advantage of a simple (but not obvious) feature of Gmail: you can add extra text to your existing user name with a + sign. Mail sent to [email protected] will go to the [email protected] address, so you can set up specific versions of your email for particular situations ([email protected]), or a general catch-all email to identify stuff that might be suspect ([email protected]).

You might well be thinking “But if all that mail comes to my Gmail inbox anyway, how is this helping me avoid spam and unwanted messages?” The answer is to take advantage of Gmail’s filtering technology to automatically shift messages sent to that ‘expanded’ address. Here’s the steps you need to follow within Gmail (assuming that you’re using [email protected] as the ‘disposable’ address, with ‘yourname’ replaced with your Google user name):

  • Click on the ‘Create a filter’ link (just next to the search box).
  • In the ‘To’ field, enter your disposable address: [email protected]
  • Click on the ‘Next Step’ button.
  • If you just don’t want to see messages sent to your Gmail account, select the ‘Skip the inbox’ option. If you’ve used a specific address to identify (say) a mailing list, you might want to apply a Gmail label instead.
  • Click on ‘Create Filter’ and you’re done.

From now on, just use your [email protected] address whenever you suspect you won’t want follow-up emails, and any unwanted mails will avoid your inbox. If you suspect that something useful has been missed, you can still access it via the search engine or through the ‘All mail’ view. Easy, hey?

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?

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