My email address is being used by not-me, and I am not sure what to do.
April 25, 2018 6:33 AM   Subscribe

In the last month or so, I've been getting a lot of emails along the lines of "yes this is still for sale, would you like to come see it?". The items in question have been motorcycles, RVs, go-carts, etc. I've also gotten at least 1 request for money through paypal and a ton of spam from Twitter suggesting that I follow a lot of celebrities that I don't. I've changed my password twice - what next?

The email account in question is one of my gmail accounts. The emails seem to be coming to firstnamelastname, when my account was set up as firstname.lastname, which may not matter. I don't send emails from this account anymore, but it is forwarded to my current gmail account. My 2 main questions are: 1) what is this person hoping to gain by offering to buy random things under my (old) name; and 2) what can I do about it?
posted by tryniti to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My gmail address is the same as my MeFi username, and I get emails from someone's mortgage adviser in Toronto, a dairy looking to supply me in Nairobi, someone's cable in Georgia, someone who keeps getting quotes for manhole covers in Kolkata, about my child's school behaviour in Melbourne, and from agricultural advisors about my chicken farm in Denmark.

These are all sent in good faith by people who've mistyped or misremembered their email addresses. It happens. If it's something urgent, you can sometimes get people to look up the right address by replying to tell them. More often than not, it's more effort than it's worth. There's no security risk to you at all, but there's not much else you can do about it.

I repeat: There's no security risk to you at all.
posted by ambrosen at 6:39 AM on April 25, 2018 [21 favorites]

This is extremely common, and as ambrosen says, it happens because someone out there can't remember their own email address. Its annoying, but not a security risk.

(I get Kohls Cash for a woman who isn't me, but apparently entered my email address as hers.)
posted by anastasiav at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get so much of this mail to my gmail and have for years - there is a lawyer somewhere in the US who regularly gives out my gmail address for confidential info. It's stopped because I followed up with the senders to let them know that their lawyer doesn't know their own email address.

Nothing has ever come out of it, other than occasionally someone has an active account on a site I want to use and I have to go in, delete their account, and then open my own.
posted by notorious medium at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yes, I get this ALL THE TIME because I have If it's spam or store emails or similar I ignore. I reply if there is personal information included - i.e. I have been sent CV's, payment details, travel confirmations with credit card information. Also if there is anything to do with kids (I have also received school reports and photos etc).

If I get a reply, it is almost always people miss-entering an email address because it's a common western name. I get some messages from an older group of friends/church group who keep sending me photos and prayer cards, but they can't figure out how to change the name on their list - I have stopped replying to them and delete but I usually send a polite reply.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

The emails seem to be coming to firstnamelastname, when my account was set up as firstname.lastname, which may not matter

You're right, it doesn't.

Agreeing with everyone else here: unless it's obvious spam, a polite reply to the offenders asking them to re-confirm their contact list is the way to go, especially if their email content seems important or time-sensitive.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:58 AM on April 25, 2018

Ditto the above. My SO gets things for some American South white nationalist type, who plays netball.
posted by pompomtom at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a address too, and I get this all the time. Everything from someone signing up for a store's mailing list, to friends arranging a cottage weekend, to highly personal correspondence. Where appropriate I reply to let people know they're using the wrong address and their friend won't know what weekend to come out to the cottage if they continue emailing me instead.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:06 AM on April 25, 2018

The emails seem to be coming to firstnamelastname, when my account was set up as firstname.lastname, which may not matter.

Just as a note, that does not matter with gmail as it ignores periods, but that is not universally true with all mail providers. But as everyone else has said, it's indicative of someone forgetting that there's a 2 after lastname or mistyping. There's not a lot you can do about it - if it's highly important I'll try to let the sender know that they have the wrong address.

a ton of spam from Twitter suggesting that I follow a lot of celebrities that I don't

This is separate (you do have a Twitter account tied to this e-mail address, correct?) - it's just that most people follow celebrities so their recommendation engine tries to get you to do so as well. If you poke around in the settings under e-mail notifications you can turn it off.
posted by Candleman at 7:13 AM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Well y'all are certainly making me feel better. I have, over the years, gotten the occasional errant email. But since I started getting a flood of them recently involving big dollar purchases, I was worried that something nefarious might be going Maybe someone with my name won the lottery!
posted by tryniti at 7:14 AM on April 25, 2018

Adjacently related: there was recently published a 3rd-party essay about gmail security entitled "The dots do matter: how to scam a Gmail user" where the author talks about how this on-the-surface-nice-idea on the part of gmail development is actually kind of a bad idea and should probably be eliminated or at least opt-outable.
posted by glonous keming at 7:15 AM on April 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Chiming in that this is normal-ish. As a gmail early adopter firstname.lastname email holder, I have recently started joking that I want to get married so I can have a new email address and stop getting this stuff.

Currently I have a college student in California who used my email and is now signed up for....many department mailings, and the school tech department says I have to call each department individually to get this fixed. So, nope, I just delete them.

I have a woman who lives in the same city as me. I know which neighborhood she's looking to purchase property in (jealous) and when she's behind on her DAR dues. I should not know these things. I have a journalist in the midwest, and I have a woman in the south/southwest who has like, every medical practice sending me things. Most are even less interesting than these.

I also have families who seem to use "mom's" email for everything, so I get a lot of "your kid missed school today" and "sign up for the bake sale" emails. Some child signed me up for alerts on a tutoring account because it was required to provide a parent email. I get reminders to have my non-existent car serviced and requests for customer service feedback at all kinds of places.

The thing these all have in common? There's no opt-in or email ownership confirmation practice with these businesses. None. One automated email from them could save me a ton of time.

This is a solved problem, and I let companies know when I reach out to them that they have some responsibility for this problem, they can't just fob it off on "the patient must have written down the wrong address" because they have humans in the office, often typing the addresses from handwritten paper, or taking addresses over the phone.

There's nothing nefarious going on, but there's also little to no motivation to fix this as a business problem.
posted by bilabial at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The email account in question is one of my gmail accounts. The emails seem to be coming to firstnamelastname, when my account was set up as firstname.lastname, which may not matter. I don't send emails from this account anymore, but it is forwarded to my current gmail account. My 2 main questions are: 1) what is this person hoping to gain by offering to buy random things under my (old) name; and 2) what can I do about it?

This is exactly what happened to me some years ago. Here's what happened:

* Back in the day, probably at about the time I originally created a Gmail address (and at the time you did too), Gmail did allow for a distinction between "firstnamelastname" and "firstname.lastname", or "firstname-lastname" formats. So I created my name with "Firstname.lastname" as my format. Meanwhile, someone else with my same first and last names created a Gmail address with "firstnamelastname" as the format, and Gmail saw those as two distinct addresses.

* Then at some point, Gmail decided "from now on, punctuation doesn't matter!" Firstname-lastname was the same as firstname.lastname, was the same as firstnamelastname. But instead of allowing all of us with our own separate firstname.lastname or firstname-lastname addresses to keep our separate accounts, they combined existing accounts.

* So I started getting the emails for that other "firstnamelastname" account, and she started also getting mine from people who emailed me at "firstname.lastname". She was getting all her own email as well, I was just a second person who was also able to see it. Same with her also being able to see emails to my account. She was using it way more than I was - she is a wedding planner in Virginia - and I decided to just abandon mine and let her have it, especially since she also had a husband who sometimes liked to send her saucy emails and I REALLY didn't want to see that more than once.

So that's probably what's going on, especially since you haven't used that old Gmail much - someone else with your same first name and last name came along and signed up for an account, only with "firstnamelastname" instead of "firstname.lastname" like you. So he is getting all the emails sent to that address, but you're also able to see them. And you both are also getting emails sent to your address format as well.

If you dont' use that Gmail much, I'd just abandon it. Send one email from your main acount to anyone who may still be using your old gmail address to tell them your preferred address, send him a quick note saying that "hey this used to be my account but I've changed, if anyone contacts you here's my address" and be done with it.

It's BEYOND STUPID that Gmail did that, but there you go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on April 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Same problem here. I have a filter set up to dump everything that comes in for firstnamelastname into the trash.
posted by clockwork at 7:48 AM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also have and my name is pretty common, so I get a ton of email meant for other people, even in cases where the person obviously filled in their own email address in a form or whatever. A lot of people don't know their own email addresses, it seems. If the email comes from a company or government agency, I just ignore it. If it seems to come from an individual, I use Gmail's canned response feature to tell them they have the wrong email address, just as a nice gesture. But I don't think you're obligated to do that.
posted by neushoorn at 7:54 AM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Due to the email handle I nabbed, I get a ton of email from confused Australians.

I just politely write them back, and tell them I love Midnight Oil.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2018

As mentioned above this is a common question and usually I don't chime in with my crazy examples anymore, but this spring someone put my email as their wedding invite RSVP. I've received dozens of confirmations and regrets. I'm wondering what the couple think is happening as they continue to not receive RSVPs...
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2018

This has been happening to a lot of Gmail customers lately, and Google is aware of the problem. If you look in the email headers, you will see "via", which is being used to route the spoofed emails that Gmail incorrectly identifies as having been sent by you. If you see "via", you are likely suffering from this problem, and it does not mean your account has been compromised.

Google forum thread
Hacker news threads 1 2
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2018

Wow, okay, so this happens to me too. I keep getting Amazon free app download messages because they're using when I have the but they go to the same place. I have tried asking Amazon and they won't help me out... it's so weird.

I'm tempted to reset the pw on on Amazon just to make it stop. Seems cruel, but seriously, wtf.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2018

I routinely get mail from a Utah Republicans mailing list (bcc only so I can't unsubscribe), random people's lawyers, and a chapter of the Freemasons. I once got a series of tearful messages from someone's fiancee. The really head-desk thing is that sometimes I will take the trouble to correct people and they will reply with "well, this is the address we have for you on file, what should we be using?" Aaaaaargh.

So, annoying as shit but not a security risk (for me, anyway).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2018

I have this problem, and I've managed it by trashing the obviously errant emails (Your Ford is due for a oil change!) and replying to the personal ones with a cheery "sorry, wrong person" form email.

Where it got really weird was when someone mistyped my email address instead of the correct one into some kind of appeal for a family where a child had died. I was deluged with sympathy messages, and then people started sending the email address in question money via paypal. After scouring email headers from a bunch of these emails, I was able to determine the 'right' address, and then I had to delicately email a stranger in great distress who shared my name and explain to them that "someone has mistyped your email address and your community is sending me money because of it." They were appreciative and fixed the address, but for a week or so I had to repeatedly refund paypal payments, and I forwarded hundreds of emails to their rightful recipient. It was a pain in the ass on my end, but I can only imagine how truly awful this must have been for an unexpectedly grieving father (who happened to share his name with some stranger who was privy to all these messages). Not to mention confusing to those around him trying to help.

My point here is that a sound policy of replying to mis-addressed email with a form letter is worthy to set up, because you don't know what situation you may find your email address involved with.
posted by gyusan at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I get these intended for three or four specific other people with my name. Most of the time, the problem lies with someone else they know either mistyping or guessing at what their e-mail might be. I've gotten so many over the years that I ignore them, unless it's something really important (job interview callback, mortgage broker sending me documents with SSNs, etc.). Sometimes they are mildly interesting - like why does the other me need to order ahead from the Cracker Barrel app for a blueberry muffin? And how should I rate the experience?
posted by candyland at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2018

There's always a relevant xkcd.

I've had this happen on gmail, where they've mistyped the name (Hi, architect in PNW whose designs I've gotten more than once) and at the office, where there are other companies in other states and countries that forget that their email address actually has an inc or a corp at the end or uses a differently spelled but similar word. There's a company that has my email down as their contact with their landlord, so I know that their rent is going up next month, but they don't seem to...
posted by yggdrasil at 9:28 AM on May 1, 2018

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