Email weirdness: Prelude to a scam?
October 28, 2013 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I've got two strange emails in a row where someone is using my email as the contact to set up accounts. Could this be some kind of scam?

Email one was from yesterday --- someone set up an online account with a local pizza chain, using my email as the contact. First name was totally different from mine, however (my email is my name). Order was for pick up, to be paid with cash, so no credit card info.

This morning, I got another email --- someone tried to open a new gmail account, in the name of a Brenda Bergstrom, using my email as the recovery address. I followed the delinking instructions gmail includes in the confirmation email, but I'm wondering if this could be some kind of prelude for a scam of some sort? I could be a simple mistake, possibly even by the same person --- the addresses in the weird email don't use periods, mine does --- but it seemed strange to me.

There was also a weird email I got a couple weeks ago --- it was an invite to join Goodrrads from a self-published author I'd never heard of. I had thought the guy might be a friend of a friend based on some stuff in his author bio, and indeed my friend said she thought she knew him, so I just figured he had sent out a goodreads invite to everyone in his address book, and must have picked up mine from my being cc'd on some mass family/friends email my actual friend had sent out. But now that I'm checking, I can't find his name anywhere in my archives.

I'm getting a bit creeped out, since with one or two exceptions I use this email strictly for family and friends --- 99% of my online shopping and website sign ups use other addresses. I'm not sure how this one could have been scooped up, if it has.

If anyone knows how to tell a) if this is some kind of scam b) how to fix it let I'd be much obliged.
posted by Diablevert to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
This happens all the time. The explanation is that people are stupid and put the wrong email address in - either they think it's theirs but they get the username wrong (initial.surname instead of firstname.surname) or they get the domain name wrong (Hotmail instead of Gmail etc).

a) Not a scam.
b) Nothing you can do to fix it unfortunately.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:50 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

If this were a prelude to a scam I'd be in real trouble, as it happens to me on a daily basis. People have terrible memories and are terrible at typing. I think that's all this is.
posted by town of cats at 7:54 AM on October 28, 2013

My wife gets these CONSTANTLY. It is people that don't understand email addresses filling out the wrong one (or a made up one) when they create accounts.

That you get the confirmation means the system is working in that your email is not linked to these accounts that don't belong to you. It's not a scam.
posted by Brockles at 7:54 AM on October 28, 2013

I recently got a call from a police department on the other side of the country because some asshat had used my email address to reserve a hotel room in a completely different part of the country and had somehow gotten into trouble.

A while back I had to explain to my then-girlfriend why I was suddenly getting messages from a particularly sketchy dating website: some teenage boy in like Nebraska had signed up using my email.

I've been invited to VP level meetings at businesses which do not employ me, ordered to report for duty at military installations I didn't know existed (unclassified fortunately, just obscure), and reminded to register for classes at universities in which I've never enrolled.

I could go on, but what's the point? This is a thing.
posted by valkyryn at 8:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

I certainly can't tell you whether it's a scam or not, but I can tell you it happens to me all the time. Other Linda Holmes does not know her email address (there are actually multiple Other Linda Holmeses with this problem), and I have thus gotten emails because she's trying to set up accounts with car insurers, book clubs, whatever. She just bought car insurance this weekend, for instance. I know what kind of car she drives. She has roadside assistance! There's another one who's a state legislator somewhere.

Her accountant also sent me her full federal tax returns once. That was a fun one. I did write back to the accountant, like, "Um, hi. I don't know if this is her fault or your fault, but YO."

As far as I know, this is a common result of somebody not knowing their own address, and it actually makes sense to me that you might get several at once if somebody just got themselves an address like firstname_lastname and thinks its firstname.lastname. Or something.

I haven't ever been able to figure out how these could be scams, so I don't worry about them. To me, they're the email equivalent of wrong numbers.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:04 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another vote for fat-fingered typing or simple stupidity here.

I get emails from and for a bunch of other people around the world who share my name all the time, and it's because a) Gmail thinks and are the same address and b) people don't know how to spell their friend/relative's name. I get the and versions of my name, too.

Like Linda, I get invites for job interviews, photos of new babies, and "Your package from Widgets, Inc. has just shipped." None of them are using my credit card details or real address, so I just filter to another folder and ignore.

In a couple of cases, I've become email-friendly with people and I forward the message -- "Hey, looks like this is yours" -- and they are grateful.
posted by vickyverky at 8:28 AM on October 28, 2013

Possibly they are using a period in their email address? Because Gmail strips those out. So if you were used to using Firstname.Lastname@work and figured you would do that for Gmail, I could see that happening.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:42 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's been a bunch of questions about this in the past that may be helpful (they're showing up for me in related questions if you want to look at a few, here's one that I asked; I was getting someone signing up for all sorts of crazy scammy payday loan stuff with my email). Basically, this is harmless but annoying and you can probably ignore it. However, I would be very careful about clicking on any link that is actually in one of these emails, even google disavowal links -- at least check the headers and raw email carefully first.

I think the most common explanation, for mine at least, is people putting spaces between a first and last name when entering an email (which then gets parsed into two email addresses). This is just going to keep getting worse for everyone over time I think, a sort of application of the pigeonhole principle as the number of emails continues to increase and the space of plausible ones get fuller and fuller.
posted by advil at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2013

Other S. MyLastNames are constantly applying for college information with my email address, and recently gave my email address in relation to a visa application, so I got a scan of her passport, with all sorts of identifying information. Also a picture of her which comfortingly confirmed for me that it's not just me, everyone's passport photos are deeply unflattering.

Which is to say that yeah, this happens a lot. I wouldn't worry about it.

Generally, ignore. If you start getting a lot of email from the same site, you may want to set up some sort of straight-to-trash filtering.

If you are feeling particularly nice or it is particularly important, you may wish to try to contact the Other You if you have enough information, or the company if not, to straighten it out. I usually ignore but did contact Passport Girl because that seemed like a pretty important thing to have screwed up, and her application gave me all the necessary information.
posted by Stacey at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2013

I have a datapoint that isn't related to fat-fingers or common names.

My real name is relatively uncommon, and my email domain is one that I own and there's only one email address on it, mine.

After signing up for a sketchy e-book website, I suddenly got a variety of confirmation emails -- "Confirm your Apple Store account" and "Confirm your Steam Account" and so forth -- my interpretation is that an automated spammer/hacker system somewhere was trying those places to see if I had an account there, and if not create an account in hopes that dumb me would click the confirmation email. I deleted them and ignored it and it eventually went away.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2013

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