A simple trick to find out who sends you spam

• 3 minutes to read

I get a lot of spam. A LOT.

If you read this, you probably have the same problem, so I’ll help you track where does your spam come from using Gmail aliases.

Some background first: I am a curious person and I like to sign up for heaps of stuff to be up-to-date with the coolest trends or things to come. That’s like every other person, but luckily enough, Gmail blocks almost everything for us. I wouldn’t imagine a world without Gmail. God forbid the Hotmail era and the ones before that.

Things got even worse when I switched my LinkedIn title to “Co-Founder at MarsBased” and when, barely a few months after that, I was appointed as Chapter Director for Startup Grind Barcelona. I feel like everyone wants to sell me stuff.

For almost two years, I have been signed up to hundreds of new email lists, most of them without my permission. Unbeknownst to them, though, I can easily track them with a simple trick.

Shut up and take my privacy!

I briefly mentioned Gmail’s awesomeness when blocking spam. They do a great job in exchange, among other things, for our privacy.

I, for one, don’t give much of a fig about online privacy because of two reasons:

  • The more stuff you’ve got to hide, the more people will be trying to gain access to it.

  • When a product is free, you’re the product.

I gave up the long-lost battle for internet privacy in the early Gmail days and, as a result, I live a much more relaxed (albeit a tad naïve) online life.

Back to topic, Gmail does not only filter spam using their secret sauce, they also gave us something called aliases.

What’s an alias?

If your email is johnsmith@gmail.com, then john.smith@gmail.com is an alias. Not only can you place dots all along the email username, but you can append “+something” to create new email addresses.

Therefore, email aliases of johnsmith@gmail.com are:

  • john.smith@gmail.com
  • j.o.h.n.s.m.i.t.h@gmail.com
  • j.ohnsmith@gmail.com
  • johnsmith+lovesurmom@gmail.com
  • johnsmith+tracksspam@gmail.com
  • … and so on.

Possibilities are endless. If you want more detail, you might want to read this article on other uses for Gmail aliases.

How to track spam using Gmail aliases?

Well, it’s simple. Every time you sign up for some newsletter or contest, type in a new Gmail alias (johnsmith+spam123@gmail.com, johnsmith+spam245@gmail.com, etc.).

Example: I signed up to test an online service for MarsBased. I ended up not using the service and deleted my account.

Some weeks afterwards, I received a call while I was heading to a meeting, asking for me. The woman calling asked whether I had read the email she had sent me. Assuming it was a potential client, I told her I’d get back to her after the meeting.

To my surprise, it was not a client. I had just been spammed. Again.

In my inbox, I had an email selling jewellery to me. I have never been interested in jewels, so I set out to find how did they get my email.

It was easy to track where did the email come from, as I remember when I created this alias and what for:

Spam Now I can send them some love myself.

Although not originally planned for this, you can use this to your advantage. Use it wisely!

This post was originally published on Medium on 2015-12-23: A simple trick to find out who sends you spam.

Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit

Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit

CEO and Founder at MarsBased and Director at Startup Grind Barcelona. I run a team of 20 people, where I spearhead the sales and strategy areas. My background in consulting and development (ex-Deloitte, ex-VASS) and my international profile help me with the technical and the business perspective. I love loud guitars, cats, travelling and tacos.