Is there any way I can find out if my e-mail address is being used on public Web sites? I’ve been getting more spam than normal lately and I wonder if that could be why. Please help!

Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I actually get this question all the time and I do apologize for neglecting it up until now. I know you all deal with spam e-mail on a daily basis (some more than others) and even though it’s sometimes hard to figure out why, there are a few things you can check on. One of the biggest causes, as stated in today’s question, is giving out your e-mail address on public Web sites and not even knowing it. And that’s exactly what we’re going to go over today, so without further ado, let’s get started!

People ask me all the time if there’s a Web site they can use that scans their system and tells them every single place their e-mail address is used. That’s a great idea, but unfortunately, the answer is no. To my knowledge, there aren’t any Web sites designed to do that, but you can get a little assistance from your favorite search engine. Just choose whichever search engine you’d like to use (Google, Yahoo!, etc.) and search for your e-mail address. From your results, you will be able to see which sites have access to your address.

For example, I used Google and typed in erin@worldstart.com. I received quite a few results, but they were mostly for other publications that sometimes use the computer tips I write (with permission, of course!) And while it’s perfectly fine for other people to use my tips, it could be where some of my spam comes from. It’s hard to tell, but at least I now have a general idea of what might be happening.

If your e-mail address showed up on several different Web sites, you might want to take a few seconds to think about all of the sites you visit. Do you do a lot of online shopping? Are you a member of any social networking sites? Do you sign up for newsletters, etc. regularly? If so, you were probably required to fill out some type of a Web form, am I right? I mean, every time you order something online, you’re asked for your e-mail address. Every time you sign up for a free newsletter, you’re asked to give your e-mail address. Every time you create a profile on a social networking site, again, you’re asked for your e-mail address. It’s a very common thing to do these days, but each time, you’re running the risk of having your e-mail address published on a public site.

Now, I’m not saying every Web site does that, but it does happen. And it’s one of the main reasons why you might be getting so much spam e-mail. For your own safety, you should never intentionally post your e-mail address on the Web. I know it’s required by a lot of Web sites and that’s fine, but you should stop and make sure you trust the site before you type it in. Luckily, a lot of Web sites are designed to keep your personal information private and obviously, those are the sites you should be using. (WorldStart is one of those sites!)

In conclusion, if you weren’t happy with the results you received when you searched for your e-mail address, you may want to reconsider the sites you use. Look through your results and end your connection with any that might be sending you spam. Also, keep a close eye on the spam you do get. You might be able to figure out where it’s coming from and stop it in its tracks that way as well. It’s a good idea to search for your e-mail address from time to time, just to make sure you’re not being added to any spam lists. It’s just one more way you can keep yourself safe while using the Web!

~ Erin