Here's a disclaimer: I wrote this posting because I'm fed up with spammers, telemarketers and nosy companies that try to squeeze out each and every bit of information they can get from me, be it for resale, preparing unsolicited phone calls or mailing me their boring newsletters.
This article is for you if you feel the same. If you're looking for support in becoming Mr Fraud, please go away. And when you've read this posting, stay aware that everything mentioned here is available to everybody, and there is always somebody who may or even will try to use it against you. I recommend visiting the Digital Identity Forum for more thorough discussions of identity issues that go beyond practical aspects.
The fifth part of this mini series on protecting your inbox shows you how to maintain temporary inboxes that yo can dispose of at any time, whenever they start getting abused.
Get a disposable persona
So you run out of ideas how to call yourself in yet another annoying online registration form, and Donald Duck doesn't isn't funny enough anymore?
Try a fake identity generator like Fake Name Generator. Select your preferred gender, your country and the naming style and get a new identity immediately, like:
Otis T. Mcneill
3534 Benedum Drive
New Paltz, NY 12561
Email Address: Otis.T.Mcneill@mailinator.com
Mother's maiden name: Espino
Birthday: September 18, 1970
Visa: [deleted by me]
SSN: [deleted by me]
The easiest and most anonymous way: Using the Mailinator service, you can simply give out email addresses like email@example.com without even registering these addresses (or yourself). Anybody can look up the content of that mailbox at the Mailinator website (no password, no registration required). Downsides: no attachments, no POP / IMAP access, you can't receive HTML mails, everything is public.
2Prong spits out a new, weird email address whenever you visit their site. The address is auto-copied to your clipboard (works under Linux, too) for your convenience. Does not handle HTML mail or attachments, though. As with mailinator, everybody can inspect any mailbox.
Spamgourmet is a bit different: upon registering a user name, e.g. «orpheus» and a valid email address you can invent an unlimited number of email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org. Exactly number emails to this fake account will be forwarded to your valid email address. Afterwards, all further email is blocked. HTML mails and smaller attachments are supported. Obvious shortcoming: If spammers know your user name («orpheus», in our example), they can spam you until you change it or use Spamgourmet's advanced prefix feature.
Get a disposable phone number
Free services like Privatephone provide you with a simple, anonymous voicemail account (10,000 messages may be stored) that can be checked online. You can also configure the service to email you after each call, or just use their web frontend to check who called.
For handling international calls for (nearly) free, via local numbers, you may mish to try Jangl's offer. Currently, they support calls to and from more than 30 countries. Jangl is currently free, but I expect them to charge their users sooner or later.
If you're willing to invest a monthly fee, Privatephone and services like Tossable Digits give you disposable phone numbers plus some more convenience features, like call forwarding and call screening. Some providers like MyAdBox specialize on additional support for selling gods, applying for a job etc.
UK residents might be interested in Privacy Numbers, a service that issues phone numbers for free that re-route all calls to your landline or cell phone. I guess the respective callers pay an additional fee, but I'm not familiar with special phone numbers in the UK. Safe Talk (Staysafe) wants you to pay for a similar service: at the time of this writing, upon sending an SMS to them, they charge you £ 1.50 for answering with a temporary phone number that you can hand out to everybody, having all calls re-routed to your real cellphone number for one month. Their website claims you can cancel the service at any time or extend it beyond that month, but there aren't any links to further details.
David Berlind over at ZDNet.com has written an excellent summary on disposable phone number services, including a list of providers.
Expensive: disposable address
If a simple PO box won't do, there are virtually hundreds of companies offering virtual office services or even temporary office space. In my opinion, renting temporary office space is not an option for most, it's just too expensive.
Yes, there are services that simply provide prestigious mail addresses, e.g. London, Berlin (or other German cities) or Beijing. Most of these providers also open, scan and email letters, forward your faxes etc. - but lets face it: you'll pay a a lot for such a facade. Better stick with a local, virtual office service provider.
Use free services only. Avoid extensive configuration options. And keep in mind that most providers have their own agenda - don't hand out data to them that you wanted to be kept private in the first place.
If you enjoyed this posting, you'll probably like the rest of this mini-series on protecting your inbox, too.