"Change my e-mail address? No problem," said no one ever.
Why the reluctance to take on what can be an important chore? Because tracking down all the parties to notify and web sites to update can feel like a staggering task. Not to mention the nagging fear that, no matter what you do, someday some important communication (a notification, perhaps, from the IRS?) isn't going to reach you because the sender didn't know your new address.
Given those negatives, why even consider wading into the water?
• You're tired of regularly picking through piles of spams just to rescue the occasional legitimate e-mail that your spam filter inadvertently blocked. As I explained in How One Simple Mistake Turned Me Into a Spam Magnet, that's why I recently changed my address.
• You hate the email address that you created back when you were a lot friskier online (Think: Luv2snuggle).
• You need to change your e-mail provider, having finally decided to jettison your 20-year-old AOL address or ditch the .EDU address you started using in school.
If you've got a good reason of your own, but have been stalling because the whole affair seemed too overwhelming, here's some good news. I have just finished changing my own e-mail address and found that, with a little planning and organization, you can do the job relatively painlessly and without disrupting your online life. (If you've been following my spam problem, here's an update: The cumulative spam count for my old e-mail address has passed 14,000 and grows by roughly 200 per day).
Ready to give it a try? Here's how to do it:
Create a new address. Use a free e-mail service, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook.com, etc. Don't use an address assigned to you by your employer, school or Internet provider, because you'll be forced to drop it when your circumstances change.
Don't delete the old e-mail address! You'll need both your old and new addresses for awhile. After creating the new address, add it to the e-mail apps on your phone, tablet or laptop.
Test run. To make sure you can send e-mail OK using your new address on all your devices, use each device to send a test e-mail to your old e-mail account. To make sure you can receive e-mail OK at the new address, reply to each of those test messages.
Make a checklist. Make a list of all the sites and online services that use your old e-mail address. This will come in handy later as a checklist to keep track of which sites you have updated and which you still need to work on.
The list will probably be longer than you expect, especially if you have accounts with more than a few of these types of online services: Retailers, social networks and discussion groups, videoconferencing services, publications, banks, credit card companies, electronic payment services, entertainment services, phone services, health care providers, insurance companies, greeting card services, airlines, hotel chains and car repair shops or dealerships.
Getting the word out
Test the waters. First use the new address to notify close friends and relatives about the change. Once you feel comfortable using it, send similar e-mails to everyone else who needs to know (using BCC to respect each person's privacy), such as those on your contact lists and those with whom you communicated using your old e-mail address. If you use a "white list" to filter spam, check that for additional people to notify.
Keep monitoring your old e-mail account. Do it for at least a few weeks to spot mail from people and institutions you may have overlooked. Don't forget about contacts that communicate with you infrequently, such as services that renew annually.
Update your online accounts. This will probably take more than a couple of days, so be patient. To get a feel for the process, begin with a few key sites, such as Amazon and your favorite social network. After those, update the most important sites on your checklist.
On each site, you'll need to sign into your account. If you have forgotten your user ID or password, most sites will, upon request, send e-mail to your old address to help you. Once you've signed in, click on My Account, Settings or Profile to find the page where you change your e-mail address. Be sure to save your changes.
To verify that the change took effect, sign out of your account and back in (Remember: Your user ID for that account may now have become your new e-mail address). Verify that your account settings have changed, if necessary. Most sites will send e-mails to both your old and new e-mail addresses confirming the change. Be sure to read them because some may require you to take action.
What could possibly go wrong?
Not all sites handle an e-mail address change well. Here are some glitches I've encountered and how to overcome them. Don't be surprised if you run into others:
• After you change the e-mail address, the site keeps sending e-mail to your old address. If you can, unsubscribe from the site's e-mail list and re-subscribe using your new address. Or contact the site's customer support.
• When you try to reset your password at the site, it won't let you re-use your old password. There's no way around this one; you must make up a new one. Before you do, see my report The Big Password Mistake That Hackers are Hoping You'll Make.
• The site won't accept your new e-mail address as a valid user ID. This happened to me when a site required at least one numeric in the e-mail address, but mine didn't have one. I was forced to use a different user ID.
• Don't forget to change the e-mail settings or user IDs in computer software such as Quicken, as well as in all devices and apps you use. Otherwise, like me, you may sit down to stream a movie at home one Saturday night only to learn that you forgot to change your user ID in the streaming device.
Cutting the cord
All things must end, even your old e-mail address. But if you just can't bear to give it up even after the new one is running smoothly, set up an e-mail Autoresponder on the old account which tells others that the address has been discontinued and suggests contacting you "by other means," but without disclosing any contact info (you don't want to give spammers your new address).
If, even after reading all of this, you're still squeamish about changing your e-mail address, relax. Take a deep breath. And do it.