We’ve all been there. You’re at a meeting, maybe with a client, maybe with a potential partner, maybe just networking with people in your field, and someone asks a question about the document they sent you. “What document?” you say, and after some confusion, you discover that they misspelled your name or made a typo, sending important documents off into the wind. It can be difficult to remember and properly type email addresses sometimes, so that this happens should be no surprise. If you find yourself in that position a lot, you might have heard something about a catch-all account to solve your problems. Catch-all accounts are convenient, easy to set up, and practical, but are they always the right answer? This article examines the downside of catch-all accounts with the hope of making it easier to decide if a catch-all account is the right solution for you.
What is a catch-all account?
Before we can talk about the downside of catch-all accounts, we need to talk about what a catch-all account is. A catch-all account refers to an email account that catches all the emails sent to a specific domain without actually belonging to a particular user. What this means is that if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org, any emails accidentally sent to email@example.com will end up getting redirected to the catch-all account. This means that no emails sent to your company are technically getting lost, which is great, but it does come with some disadvantages. What might the downside of catch-all accounts be, you might ask? Well, we’re happy you did. Let’s take a look.
You need to be prepared for a LOT of spam
Picture this: every single email sent to your domain ends up somewhere, whether in a catch-all account or someone else’s inbox. Now picture this: people figure out that any email sent to your company, regardless of the username, is guaranteed to be read, even if it’s by some poor unpaid intern from the local community college. What do you think is going to happen? (Hint: It rhymes with ‘ham’).
If your answer was ‘spam’, you’re correct!
A downside of catch-all accounts is that they are notorious spam magnets. Once spammers figure out that all mail being sent to your company is going somewhere, they’re going to start spamming email addresses until they find one that sticks or just get sent to the catch-all account. This means that anyone assigned to check the catch-all account may find themselves wading through veritable rivers of spam, trying to find the few good emails worthy of being put back into circulation. And this is a problem because…
Someone still has to check it
A catch-all account isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good if the mail it catches just ends up sitting there, waiting for its time to shine like the waiter who insists his acting career will take off any day now. Setting up a catch-all account means assuring that someone in your company will have to check it, to parse through the junk mail and find the legitimate misplaced emails that have gotten lost in there. That person will then have to play a guessing game, matching lost emails to their owners and forwarding them on while making sure to not send on perfectly legitimate looking emails that may actually be scams in disguise. And since the catch-all account is catching misplaced mail for all of your users, not just one, there could potentially be a lot of mail. This pretty much ensures that the person checking the catch-all account won’t be having much fun.
So who’s going to do it? It would be nice to say that since the catch-all account belongs to everyone, everyone would check it and forward relevant emails on, but then you run into something called the tragedy of the commons. Everyone assumes everyone else is checking the account so that they don’t have to do it, and the catch-all account remains ignored until someone requires someone else to check it or some good Samaritan gets up and does it for everybody. It’s a solvable problem, but this is definitely one downside of catch-all accounts that needs to be considered.
It won’t save you from misspelled domain names
So let’s say you’ve decided to tough out the piles of spam and have a nice, neat rotation schedule to make sure the catch-all account gets checked regularly. All your email is now safe, right? Well, not quite. As it turns out, catch-all accounts only save you from typos or misspellings in the username portion of the email address. Any typos in the domain name won’t get email sent to the catch-all account, and will instead see those emails lost wherever it is lost data goes. This could be a problem, but in fairness, when talking about human error, there’s only so much you can do.
So there you have it. Catch-all accounts can be useful tools for your business, but it isn’t all roses. Like all things, there’s a downside, and the downside of catch-all accounts needs to be considered before you find your business taken over by piles of spam and your interns start revolting.