You’ve got three basic options: the complicated way that should work anywhere, the simple way that not all mail services allow, and a sort of secret-menu option that’s even simpler and faster but won’t fly at many e-mail systems.
First, you can create a new e-mail address on any other service and set your existing mail app to fetch messages sent there. The ability to grab e-mail from another account has been a standard feature of Web-mail sites since the ’90s; in Google’s Gmail, for instance, open your settings and click on the “Accounts and import” heading.
Why wouldn’t that be enough? You have another username/password combination to remember — then reset on all your devices after you inevitably forget the password.
Your second option is to use the “alias” feature many popular mail services offer, where you get a new address that goes to the same inbox as your current one, like how mail addressed to “Occupant” lands in your mailbox alongside bills with your name on them. See, for instance, Microsoft’s Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail and Apple’s iCloud. In this setup, you don’t have to bookmark any new sites or learn any new log-ins. If you get tired of having the new alias flooded with junk mail, turn it off, and spam sent there will bounce.
But what if your mail service — such as, say, Gmail — doesn’t offer an alias feature? Or what if you need a second address only to share with a few companies or organizations (for example, to open a frequent-flier account for your kid so she can get an early start on million-miler status)? You may be able to employ a less obvious method to create new addresses: Insert punctuation.
Gmail’s workaround may be the best-known. If you insert a period somewhere in your username — going from, for instance, “usatoday” to “usa.today” or “u.s.a.today” — Gmail will accept messages sent to those variations, unlike most competitors.
A recent discussion on a tech-journalism mailing list reminded me of a second hack to create new addresses on the fly, one that can function in services besides Gmail: Add a plus sign to a username, followed by the text of your choice.
Gmail and other Google-hosted mail accounts have allowed that for years, and Microsoft’s Outlook.com has supported it since at least last September. When I tried sending e-mail to my iCloud address with “+test” tacked on to my username, that worked, too.
But while this trick is something allowed by the standards for e-mail, not all services play along. It didn’t work at a Yahoo account (disclosure: I write about policy issues for that company’s Yahoo Tech news site) or with my USA TODAY editor’s account.
But I wouldn’t use this workaround to dodge spam, because it’s so obvious that you can get at somebody’s real e-mail address by taking off the plus-sign suffix. And sending e-mail from these contrived addresses may require additional tinkering.
TIP: FOCUS SEARCHES IN OS X’s MAIL
One of my favorite but non-obvious Gmail features is the ability to fine-tune searches using “search operators” — for example, locating messages older than a year by adding “older_than:1yr” to whatever word or phrase you had asked Google’s mail service to locate.
Apple’s Mail app in OS X hides a lesser but still-useful feature: Instead of typing a search term, then waiting for Mail to offer to limit that query to matching subjects or senders, you can begin a search with “subject:” or “from:” For example, to find messages with “rabbit” somewhere in their subject lines — a frequent topic on my bunny-beset neighborhood’s mailing list — I’d type “subject:rabbit.”
To combine operators, wait for Mail to show results for one, then type a second, and let it show what matches that. Mail will present small drop-down menus in darker-blue boxes to the left of each operator that let you shift the focus of that part of the search. For example, instead of showing messages from somebody, you can click on that menu to tell it to find e-mails sent to that person.