How to Know Exactly Who Sold Your Email Address to Spammers

Email spam is a reality of our times. Here’s the best way to avoid it.

Your email address is worth money.

It’s worth a lot of money, to a lot of people. And some folks, as unscrupulous or as conniving as they are, will stop at nothing to get it.

(This sounds like the opening line of a particularly digitally-inclined crime novel, but I’m serious.)

What your email address represents is a way for you to be directly contacted — by brands, companies, friends and your mom. For your mom, it’s a nice and easy way to stay in touch. For brands, companies, services, or even bloggers like me (hi) they represent a chance to sell you something. And that’s worth money.

Now, most of us know this. I know, for example, when I sign up to someone’s mailing list, that they’ll probably try to sell me something. It’s understood and accepted. And here’s why:

There are two social interactions happening here. First, the person emailing me is going to try to provide enough value to me for free that I don’t mind the odd advertisement from them. Secondly, I trust that they’ll only recommend things they like, that they think I’ll like, too. For example, if I signed up to a writer’s mailing list, I’d expect to get writing-related recommendations. A fabulous notebook, a course on creative writing.

Photo by Host Sorter on Unsplash

In fact, there’s a rough rule of thumb that the number of email subscribers you have is worth about that number in dollars per month. So if you have one hundred followers, you can count on around $100 per month if you use your email list well.

This number has decreased — people open fewer emails nowadays, and they’re pickier about giving out their email addresses in the first place. But still, email is one of the best ways to get yourself and your products in front of your ideal customer’s nose. And that’s worth something.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that when any quantity of money gets thrown around, you can begin to expect fraud of some kind. People will inevitably cheat the system.

How do people steal your email address?

Some of you might say, “Hold on, I’ve never given out my email to anyone who might have turned out to be a spam sender!”

And that might be true.

But what you might not know is that some companies exist solely for the purpose of mining email addresses. They’ll “need” your email to communicate with you, or to send you information, or for you to sign up to their service.

Some email lists begin legitimately and are used well, but then are sold to the highest bidder. When I’ve googled “how to make money with email addresses,” one of the ways normally listed is simply to sell your list. You get more money the bigger it is, or the more niche it is.

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

Out there on the vast interwebs are enormous data banks, filled with reams and reams of email addresses. People broker them, buying and selling, based on size, target audience, quality of email address, how long they’ve had it. In my job, I get three or four spam emails per day offering to sell me an email list in my desired business vertical.

You can even rent lists.

It’s frustrating and annoying and invasive, but unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. However, there is a way you can find out who ratted you out.

How to know who sold your email address.

When I was in college, I went through a phase of signing up for every survey website that promised to give money in exchange for filling out surveys, clicking on ads, or searching the web.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

The actual payouts were scant, but the promise of what essentially felt like free money was too strong to deny.

One of these survey sites was “Inbox Pounds.” To Inbox Pounds, I even gave my phone number, so strapped was I for cash.

To be fair to Inbox Pounds, I think I did get my payout of £20 (after about six months of casual use). But I also got a lot of spam, unaffiliated with Inbox Pounds. How do I know it was from them?

Luckily, when I first signed up to Inbox Pounds, I had just read an article that said when you sign up for free stuff, you shouldn’t give out your name. Instead, put the name of whoever was giving you the free thing.

So I duly signed up as Ms. Inbox Pounds.

I do this for everyone. When I want Olay to send me a free sample of their latest face cream (in exchange for a name and email address) I call myself Olay Freesample. When I am asked to give my email address in order to get free wifi, I say Coffeeshop Freewifi.

So when I start to get email addresses addressed to me by something other than my own name, I know exactly who sold me out, and what the price was.

To this day, I get cold callers ringing me up, asking for a Ms. Pounds, Ms. Inbox Pounds. I can hear it in their voices, the embarrassment from asking for such an obviously fake name. I always, perhaps somewhat cruelly, ask that they repeat it a few times.

“Who’s that? What’s that first name? Inlox? Finstocks?” I query down the phone line, while my partner stifles his cackles.

“No, Inbox, ma’am. Is there an Inbox Pounds at this number?” comes the tired reply. They know it’s a fake name. And yet they always ask. I think they have to.

“I have never heard of anyone called Inbox Pounds, I’m afraid.” I finally end the conversation.

Inboxes are free, but they’re not worthless.

I have four active email addresses: one for me, one for my cats, one for work, and one for my hobbies, like blogging. I cherish the real estate in each one. I’m a fervent believer in Inbox Zero, which means I invest some time every day in maintaining my inboxes, keeping them free of clutter, with the same care I dedicate to my desk or my bedroom.

Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

My inboxes act as to-do lists, reminders, organizers and prompts. My inboxes were free to set up, and it’s free to receive emails, but to me, it’s so important to make sure they remain this hallowed ground, filled only with things that matter. I will spend my time gladly in ensuring they stay useful tools, not trash repositories.

And any stray spam that manages to get in? I know who sold me out. And I don’t trust them again.

Biology MSc. Psychology nerd. She/her. Get my FREE 5-day Medium Starter Kit to make money writing about what you love:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store