When I discovered my betrayal I pointed at the screen and said, "Busted!" I felt disappointed and relieved at the same time -a feeling like discovering that you've been overcharged for something, while holding the receipt containing a price guarantee printed at the bottom.
The breach of trust began when I ordered office supplies from an online retailer -let's call them Office Things. I filled in the online form, including the required email address, and then completed my purchase with a credit card payment. Shortly thereafter, messages from retailers other than Office Things began to trickle into my inbox. What Office Things didn't know was that I had not used a real email address when I filled in their form. I used an email alias (sometimes called a forwarder), which looks like an email address, but doesn't store messages; it simply forwards them to a real email address.
Accurate email addresses are a valuable commodity for scammers, hard core spammers and legitimate online businesses who want to promote their services. Most respectable companies will warn you if they intend to share your email address. But the warning may be buried in the fine print that hovers above the "I Agree" button or beside the already-checked checkbox that says you agree to offers from 3rd parties. There are some unscrupulous companies that, without warning, share or sell their email databases to unrelated businesses for profit.
An email alias keeps your true email address private; it can also identify the sender if you create an alias for each online store or web site you order from. For example, when I need an alias for a specific online purchase, I'll create a name like [email protected]. I expect that alias to forward emails sent only from Office Things. If I start getting spam for medical "enhancements" or instant college diplomas -addressed to my Office Things alias, then I know that they shared (or sold) my email address to another company. That's my cue to delete the alias and mark its namesake as untrustworthy.
The best feature of an alias is that it is disposable. If your inbox gets filled with unwanted messages addressed to your alias, you can delete the alias forever. The flow of unwelcome spam ends and your true email address remains squeaky clean. Check with your email provider to see if use of aliases is an option for you.