"Well wait a second, don’t you see that’s 555-FILK?"
October 26, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I mitigate/avoid misdirected email? In the early days of gmail, I locked down a very convenient address, which is "my-first-initial-and-last-name"@gmail.com. My first initial and last name is surprisingly common. It's not JSmith, but it's enough that three or four times a week, I get what appears to be important emails for other people who mistakenly entered my email address on a form. After a few years, I've become frustrated with the amount of misdirected email that comes my way. How can I filter this, or otherwise lessen its impacts?

I get three different students' school assignments from teachers, I get used car purchase invoices, and I get bank statements. It runs the gamut. My favorite was the registration for Pink Sofa (Australia's premiere lesbian online dating site). I'll often respond "You have the wrong address," which is almost as fast as deleting (and I feel better about it), but this often leads to follow-up explanatory emails. In the case of the bank statements and other online services, they often tell me I need to change my address through their online service, even though this is impossible, since I don't know the password--and I quite explicitly tell them that I am not the account holder.

Short of changing my email address, how can I stop or reduce this annoyance?
posted by pollex to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Add a period in the middle of your address when you give it to people, so it's J.Smith@gmail.com. It'll still come to the same inbox, and you can filter anything that's addressed to JSmith@gmail.com to a folder than you only check occasionally.

Alternatively, filter senders that you don't have in your address book, though that's decidedly more aggressive.
posted by supercres at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not really a lot you can do about it unfortunately. I've got a relatively uncommon name and managed to get @gmail.com as my address, but there are no less than 3 other people who are constantly signing up for crap with the same last name as me. One of them went on a binge for a while trying to reset the password of "her" Gmail account despite the fact it's been mine for years. I stopped one of them by finally receiving a piece of mail that was listing some store account info of theirs which had their home address on it and sent them a snail mail that politely said "Look, xxxxxx@gmail.com has been my address for years, you've got to be mistaken about what you think your gmail account is", and got an apology so that was nice. No luck on the others yet, but I apparently could probably access a couple hundred thousand Delta Sky Miles of someone's if I really wanted...
posted by barc0001 at 12:44 PM on October 26, 2011

I do too! I also have a short Gmail address and regularly get confirmation photos from Mexico, job interview replies from Singapore (sometimes from repeat offenders), and once a "it was nice meeting you on the plane" message from a very polite Kenya gentleman (not a scammer!). Occasionally I reply if it looks very serious, but good grief.

The ones that really tick me off are the people who've added me to a list in their address books (one Spanish-speaking group of friends just won't get the message) AND all the businesses out there who don't use double opt-in mailing lists! GRRRR! I do not care about ads for sales at little dress shops in London suburbs! This is not a concept that should be eluding modern businesses.
posted by wintersweet at 12:45 PM on October 26, 2011

I get these all the time. I ask them to be more careful and sometimes that lessens it. I also have a rule for catching an email sent to me without a period in it as that's usually misaddressed, and then I can deal with it all at once.
posted by michaelh at 12:47 PM on October 26, 2011

I too have a short Gmail address. I usually try to have fun with it. Recently, I was invited to a very nice steak dinner on Father's Day in NYC. I replied to the email to let Dad know that I appreciated the invite, but I wasn't his son. He replied that I was still invited :) Unfortunately, I don't live near NYC.
posted by COD at 12:50 PM on October 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

I have the same problem, but probably not to the degree you do. You can't really stop it, because you can't stop a bunch of people you'll never meet from making typos.

As I see it there are three ways you can handle this on your end.

White hat: Dutifully reply to every misaddressed email, to little positive effect, at the cost of your time and sanity.

Grey hat: Ignore it completely. Decide that this doesn't bother you, and it ceases to be a problem.

Black hat: Reset their passwords, reply with embarrassing messages to their friends, propose mandatory meetings to their coworkers that they don't show up for, etc.--generally wreak as much havoc as you can. Things will get sorted. Teach them a valuable lesson while entertaining yourself at the same time.
posted by danny the boy at 12:59 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Really black hat: post every incorrectly addressed message to a blog. Get a book deal and make millions.
posted by miyabo at 1:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Imagine that you stopped using this gmail account altogether (or that you were simply on vacation for a few weeks). These misdirected emails would just go into the ether, right? And the sender/recipient would either figure out the mistake, or not, but it would not be your responsibility. I think you need to free yourself of the (understandable) desire to help, and its associated guilt if you do not, that comes every time one of these messages hits your inbox.

Consider this approach: as an obvious misdirect email arrives, automatically move it to a "Not Me" folder without reading it. Don't let yourself get sucked into what the content is, whether it seems time-sensitive, or who the person is, etc., because this is arguably an undue burden on you and as others have said, these mistakes happen ALL the time. Then, though, once a week (say, every Thursday at 10am), send ONE bulk email to all of the senders (bcc'ed or otherwise hidden), saying something to the effect of:
"My email address is jsmith@gmail.com. I recently received an email you sent to this address that you intended for someone else with a similar name and/or email address. Please check your records for that person's correct email address and resend your message, or contact him or her through another channel if necessary. Thank you."
Of course you could do this as each message comes in if that makes more sense for you, or daily, but if I were you, I'd try to set some boundaries to help balance the desire to be helpful with adding things to your "to do" list that will sap your concentration, productivity and energy... with little likely net benefit.

(One other option: unless you're using this address professionally, you could also add an Out of Office message that automatically goes once (and only once) to each new sender, detailing that this is the email account of Jar-Jar Smith, the vintner in Chattanooga, and that if the message is intended for someone else, the sender should be aware that emails are often misdirected to your account and that they should double-check their records. Your friends will only see it once, mass emailers to you will ignore it, and at least some erring senders will stop and think and try again.)
posted by argonauta at 1:10 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I very much understand your predicament. I have my real name gmail address, and my name really is a very common first name and last name Smith. I get tons (like probably 15-20/day) of other people's mail. Generally I deploy danny the boy's Grey Hat response: I ignore and delete. If it seems like an emergency and someone will actually be harmed if the message doesn't go through, I'll reply. I think that's happened maybe four or five times since I got gmail in 2004. So my approach to reducing this annoyance has I guess been not to get too annoyed. I haven't found any way to control it.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:27 PM on October 26, 2011

Best answer: Adding to argonauta's comment, I recommend the Canned Responses lab in Gmail, which will allow you to save your "wrong address" message. When you get a misdirected email, you can send your saved reply in a second (for me, it'd be faster than saving their addresses and BCCing in bulk).

Here's YouTube video demonstrating how to set up a Canned Response.
posted by beyond_pink at 1:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Anyone with my name who signs up for an online profile or account 'accidentally' using my email account instead of theirs is subject to me hitting the "I forget my password" button on that website, which I will then use to delete the account.

I don't care if it's a shopping profile, a social network, or a professional forum. Bank accounts I haven't had to deal with yet.

For person to person communications, I've refined my reply to reduce the follow-up confusion. What's working best is: "You have reached the wrong [FIRST LAST]. Please re-check the email address you are trying to reach, and remove me from your contacts.



Usually now the replies I get are variations on "thanks."
posted by deludingmyself at 2:12 PM on October 26, 2011

I think this is one of the downsides of having a simple gmail address. I get this too (less frequently than you). I've even ended up in arguments with people who simply won't believe they have the wrong address- I've decided I'm not doing that again, because a single try at informing them of the error is more than enough.

I once got misdirected email for a teacher who'd been selected to go to Space Camp -- I sorta wish that *had* been for me!
posted by nat at 2:40 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're probably dealing with the problem that Gmail sees j.smith, jsmith, js.mith, j.s.mith, j.s.m.ith, etc. as the same damned thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:44 PM on October 26, 2011

I get it all the time. I call them the Other MaryLynns. So far, I am the best one (though if I could determine for certain if the same OM signed up for BOTH the prison dating service AND the old Christian person dating service she would obvs give me a run for my money). I pretty much just always delete them. I think I replied once, very early on, when someone emailed to tell one of the OMs that her aunt died. But its become so tiresome that I just delete now. I feel like of bad for one who I think has a kid or kids who keep signing up for these kid websites that need their parent's approval which is never going to come so long as I get the emails. That kid is gonna need therapy.
posted by marylynn at 2:55 PM on October 26, 2011

I have a distant cousin with my same first initial and last name who does this. Her email address is InitialLastname88@gmail.com, but she is CONSTANTLY giving mine instead (which is the same minus the 88). I finally thought I'd cracked the problem when I started getting scheduling reminders from her obstetrician's office, because those had her full name and home phone number in them, and I called her to tell her of the error. . . but no, it keeps happening. So now when she does it, I just unsubscribe if it's a bulk email, or write them back and say "You want this other person" if it's personal email.

She's just one person, though. If it was dozens, I'd do the monthly bulk thing listed above.
posted by KathrynT at 4:08 PM on October 26, 2011

I get emails for other jessamyns all the time. Enough that I wonder sometimes if the other jessamyns give out the wrong email on purpose. I use a thing in gmail called "canned responses" (what folks said above) and I have a response all built in which says

1. you have the wrong email address
2. please check your address book
3. further misdirected email to this address will not be read

And then I add the address to an all purpose "send direct to trash" list, guilt free. If they email back to say "thanks!" it goes to the trash, no problem. If they screw up again: trash. If they need to talk to me about it: I don't care, trash.
posted by jessamyn at 4:58 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would vote for not doing the weekly bulk response, personally. If I mistakenly emailed the wrong person, and then, several days later, received an email that wasn't even in reply to my original email, I'd find it an annoyance, not a help. I do think argonauta is spot-on that you're entirely within your right to just not reply, though. But if you're going to reply, I don't think it's helpful unless you do so relatively promptly, and by replying to the actual email so it's clear what message they misdirected.
posted by fogster at 5:15 PM on October 26, 2011

Best answer: post every incorrectly addressed message to a blog. Get a book deal and make millions.
Sorry, miyabo, someone's already all over it: Wrong kmiller. Though it doesn't look like it's been updated recently so there may be an opening in the market.
posted by kickingthecrap at 5:20 PM on October 26, 2011

Happens to me all the time too. I try to be kind about it. Mostly things get ignored, but if it's anything remotely important, I reply to let the sender know. (Ie, family photos and travel info requiring visa clearance get a reply, the 10th email from a university subcommittee gets filtered).

It took a bit of research up front, but I recently called up someone's alumni association to tell them they had the wrong email, since that person clearly desired to be involved, and if I ignored it, they'd miss every single missive from the group from that point onward.
posted by lhall at 6:03 PM on October 26, 2011

I get this at two different emails. My dictionary word @gmail gets orders for tombstone engravings a couple times a year, and I'm hoping to eventually figure out the real company so I can forward those emails on.

With my firstnamelastname @gmail I occasionally reply back and let them know that they should check their records and that there might be a missing middle initial. (I know that's the case for at least one person since the correct address was mentioned in the actual email.)
posted by weskit at 9:07 PM on October 26, 2011

I have this problem - I have firstname.lastname@gmail.com and someone with the same name has firstnamelastname@gmail.com. I sometimes get his e-mail but, as far as I'm aware, he never gets mine (in that I'm not aware of any messages I should have received but didn't). When I've looked at the message details, they are usually addressed incorrectly (including the .).

I used to play nice and reply to them giving the usual response but, after a few years I got sick of it, so now I just mark them as spam (dark grey hat?). What was a steady flow (maybe five or six a week, sometimes several a day) has since slowed to a trickle (maybe one every couple of weeks). The fact that the owner of the other account is clearly an ultra-conservative gun freak ex-marine with an appallingly tasteless sense of humour has nothing to to with my strategy ;-)
posted by dg at 9:12 PM on October 26, 2011

I'm yet another firstnamelastname@gmail person. I get frequent (10-15/week) emails for my "others" who variously have uses periods/underscores/dashes in their gmail accounts. My others are currently:
1. A (married) Salt Lake City gentleman who is/was using AshleyMadison.com to cheat on his wife. I set up a filter to autofoward his messages from them to his wife who was cc'd on a previous unrelated email. That fixed those emails rather quickly.
2. A southern california radio personality who gets a lot of fan mail from prisoners. These get deleted.
3. A programmer from somewhere in the midwest whose wife likes knitting and frequently uses his account to purchase yarn of which I get the receipts. I let him know the first time it happened, he was apologetic and tried to get his wife to use the right address. She still doesn't so I spend about 5 minutes a month total forwarding them on to him. He sent me a very nice amazon gift certificate around Christmas for my trouble/continued help.
4. Miscellaneous e-newsletters, software update notices, coupons, etc. I set up a google filter to mark as spam and auto delete.

Basically my motto is, if its weird, delete; slimy, exploit; honest mistake thats fixable, forward on; from a computer, auto-filter as spam.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:18 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have one email address that should be hard for someone to mistakenly send to, but another genius set up an email with a similar sound but mis-spelling of the word in English. (Think sponsor v sponser) I have become email buddies with that woman as it is often her children's school (correcting bad spelling, duh) or a business that misdirects. I just forward it to her with a short, "I think this is yours". Or, "Congrats, your daughter got an 'A'". This is easy since it is one person, but if I had it a lot, I would deal with it on my time and schedule. If I had the time, I would send an it is not me email and if I did not have the time, I would ignore.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2011

1) Priority inbox
2) My canned response includes the city I live in (it's a big city) and a request that the sender notify the intended recipient that they're giving out the wrong address. Tends to cut down on the, "haha, funny joke but I know you're just goofing on me, real friend." responses.
3) WTF label and filters for repeat offenders.
4) Unsubscribe. (Red Box's unsubscribe doesn't work. Sigh.)
5) Google has a FAQ that explains the whole "skwirl" versus "s.k.w.i.r.l" being the same account thing for incredulous folk, but it reads too technically for most of those people to understand so I just ignore/filter any incredulous people.
6) I often curse under my breath wondering whatever happened to the courtesy of sending a test email that requires a response before signing people up to mailing lists.
7) The stuff that involves money or identity information is worrisome. One time somebody used a scanning copier to send a bunch of sensitive documents. Can't really reply to a copier.
posted by Skwirl at 8:50 AM on October 27, 2011

I also have first and last name gmail buddies (though none for my handle) and 'cause it is just a few I usually forward with a quick note.

However last summer when I was looking for work a new email buddy from Kansas signed up with a temp/recruiting outfit with my email and was very prolific applying for positions via that channel. I was getting dozens of emails a day from assorted companies regarding job postings and it was seriously interfering with my own job search. I couldn't figure out how to contact the email buddy nor cancel the account at the recruiter so I requested a password reset, logged into the site, and set the email to test@example.com. I felt bad but hopefully after some silience (or inability to log in) he either re-signed up or was able to back channel an email address change. The flood of email stopped but interestingly I still get an occasional email offering me a job so it appears some HR people misusing the resource.

I have firstname.lastname@gmail.com and someone with the same name has firstnamelastname@gmail.com

FYI: These are the same email address. Gmail ignores periods and everything after and including a '+' sign when parsing addresses.

PS: I'm immensely jealous of my mail buddy who is an international architect.
posted by Mitheral at 8:10 AM on October 28, 2011

Mitheral: "FYI: These are the same email address. Gmail ignores periods and everything after and including a '+' sign when parsing addresses."

In that case, I guess my e-mail buddy's address must be firstname[some unknown character]lastname@gmail.com and people are leaving out the unknown character or substituting a period instead.

The plus thing is interesting - that also mean you could give out different addresses to different groups by including a + between your actual address and the unique information. I've tried this by sending from within Gmail and from Outlook/Exchange and both allowed the message to come through intact with the extra information showing as the recipient. This may be useful for filtering messages.
posted by dg at 7:53 PM on October 30, 2011

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