Why did an email containing sensitive info disappear from my mom's aol account?
September 30, 2008 5:40 AM   Subscribe

My mom sent an email to herself on AOL containing sensitive information, and it never arrived - and there's no record of it in her inbox, or sent-message folder. Should we be worried? (details inside)

My mom recently sent an email containing sensitive information to herself using her AOL account, on a hotel wireless network. She never received it, and it doesn't show up in her sent-mail folder either. She sent the message around 5:30 pm, and at 4:45 the next morning she received an email from MAILER-DAEMON@aol.com with the subject "Mail Delivery Problem", that just said this:

"Your mail to the following recipients could not be delivered because they are not accepting mail from [email redacted]:

[random user name she's never seen]"

No details about the email, and no subject line, so we can't be sure if its related. Either way, should we be worried? Should we contact AOL? Is there some way the information could have been intercepted by a third party? And why is there no record of the email in her account?

posted by slowcat to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How savvy is she? Could she have deleted it from sent items herself? My mom once got angry with David Letterman about something he said about Catholics, and randomly decided his email was something like 'dave@cbs.com' and sent it to him. After six years with a computer, she's unable to attach an image to an email, so anything she says about mysterious things that happened in her technological wanderings I instantly translate into "an antelope sat down for dinner and we had pie, and then I had to buy shoes so I made a pot of coffee and poured it into the plant in the corner, you know the one--that fern? I like ferns."

I think the best thing to do is treat the situation as if the sensitive information was compromised. If it's bank passwords or login, I'd change them. If it's a social security number, I personally wouldn't worry about it. If it's Visa account and expiration date, I would consider closing the account, and advising her not to send such things through email in the future.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:58 AM on September 30, 2008 [9 favorites]

I have used wireless networks in hotels before and been blocked from sending email to certain domains, like comcast, with the same kind of message being returned. I don't think there's anything sinister there.

In those cases instead of sending from the email client on my laptop, I've logged into webmail and sent from there. That way, the mail is coming from my domain and not the hotel's domain.

I'm not sure why it's not showing up in sent mail, unless your mom is using IMAP and the connection to write the mail to the sent folder was refused.
posted by cabingirl at 6:11 AM on September 30, 2008

I think there are two separate issues here.

I get "Your mail to the following recipients could not be delivered..." messages all the time, and that's probably a result of a Joe Job -- someone sending Spam from your address (which doesn't mean they know your account information).
posted by jozxyqk at 6:29 AM on September 30, 2008

This is a real long shot, but if the message contained numbers and a bank name (or something along those lines), could the incoming version have been trapped by a spam filter? Depending on what was in the message, it could have had the same kind of content (to the eyes of a computer filter) as investment junk e-mail.
posted by sueinnyc at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2008

My diagnosis on the missing e-mail is that it was never sent. She connected using the hotel's network, drafted the message, hit the "send" button, but it never finished sending for some unknown reason. When she disconnected from the wifi, the message was neither saved nor sent, so it's gone.

And the other thing is unrelated, as others have said.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:06 PM on September 30, 2008

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