CyberScout

Gmail Users Can Use This Simple Trick to Protect Their Accounts

Gmail dots
Getty Images

Gmail users  represent 44% of email users worldwide, which alone makes it worthy of consideration as an email solution. That said, it offers a good trick to increase email security.  

When Google developed Gmail, they adopted a policy for email addresses called “dots don’t matter,” where the emails addressed to johnsmith@gmail.comjohn.smith@gmail.comj.o.h.n.s.m.i.t.h@gmail.com all go to the same address. This was actually created with security in mind since scammers commonly exploit predictable user error–namely typos–to trick and redirect their targets, and it would be relatively easy for someone with ill intent to register johns.mith@gmail.com if they know that john.smith@gmail.com was in active use. By disregarding dots in an email address, Google mitigated a potential risk for a client list that has ballooned to 1.8 billion users.

It also provides an effective means of knowing the source of an email. Rather than maintaining separate email accounts, a Gmail user can provide their email address as a dotted version for their various online accounts and activities. If you registered your banking account with the email j.ohnsmith@gmail.com and received one addressed to anything other than that specific variation, it could be a red flag indicating that it’s time to proceed with extreme caution.

Dotting your Gmail address can also help determine who’s sharing your data. If you sign up for a service online as jo.hn.sm.ith@gmail.com and start receiving unwanted emails to that address, it can indicate three things: 1.) that a specific service is selling your data  and 2.) a company with your email address has suffered data loss, or 3.) a company has violated their privacy policy or terms of service. 

The drawback is simple: It’s a lot to keep track of. The average American maintains 130 separate accounts per email address; if you were to really try to maintain a separate variant for each and every online service, app, and account you would need to either have an exceptional memory, or the time and inclination to consult a cheat sheet for each incoming email.

Using dots within an Gmail address isn’t a panacea for email protection, and it’s actually been exploited in scams in the past, but it can be useful for at least some aspects of email hygiene.