The failings of an email address as a unique identifier
September 8, 2021 9:47 AM   Subscribe

 
When I was a kid, it always slightly bothered me that my mother spelled my name so oddly. I was forever having to spell it for people and why couldn't she just have named me properly?

As an adult, I am almost entirely blissfully free of interference with my name online -- I can be jacquilynne nearly everywhere with very little competition and very few instances of people misusing my email address.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:00 AM on September 8 [21 favorites]


The frustrating part of this is that there's no way to reach the other people who think my email address is theirs. I would love to send them an email that's like "Hey. Could you please stop??" but even *they* don't know what their address is.
posted by chrchr at 10:03 AM on September 8 [40 favorites]


My email address is similarly firstname.lastname@gmail.com and it is unbelievable how many other people sharing my name will sign up for stuff under my address.

If someone has signed up for something under my email address, I'll try to unsubscribe, or to do a password reset and then either delete the account or change the email address to something random like "hugedumbass@gmail.com" so that my email address is not polluted with the other person's mail.

And like Sara, it's been "fun" to learn how poorly designed website authentication systems are. For example, many happily accept whatever email address you give them without verifying, BUT if you want to actually sign in it requires two-factor authentication.

Most recently, someone has signed up my email address under their Boost Mobile account, but the login page for Boost Mobile only accepts the phone number as the login. So to spam it goes.

It's really really annoying and I don't have a way to stop it other than, again like Sara, abandoning the account and starting a new one.
posted by JDHarper at 10:06 AM on September 8 [16 favorites]


I have a somewhat uncommon last name, so I have actually tracked down the handful of other “M. Brubecks” who frequently give out my email address by accident. A few of them have written back asking about family connections, and we have managed to trace our common ancestors.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:07 AM on September 8 [14 favorites]


I suffer from this, I got an early gmail account with firstinitialsurname@gmail.com

i get loads of email for other people who have the same surname and the same first initial, or something near it.

I just can't figure out why, say, a person doesn't notice they're not getting the billing messages from the BMW dealer.

I have also received more than my share of privileged communications this way, medical data and whatnot, even in one case regular psychological reports about a child that continued even after I sent an email stating I was not the intended recipient.

people are weird.
posted by chavenet at 10:07 AM on September 8 [11 favorites]


I have a second email family. We are from different parts of the country and of different ethnicity. I've given up on trying to alert them. The birth and wedding chains are kind of nice, but the funeral ones are sad and I could definitely do without the politically motivated Prayer Alerts. Which maybe isn't so different than being an actual distant cousin, all in all.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:08 AM on September 8 [27 favorites]


I usually can figure it out, actually, as long as there's a name or location attached, it's pretty easy OSINT. I don't usually bother at this point unless it is something that looks important, though, like plane tickets. And of course, you have to be careful you aren't being phished!
posted by tavella at 10:09 AM on September 8


I am almost entirely blissfully free of interference with my name online -- I can be jacquilynne nearly everywhere with very little competition

I see your point, but with users Jacqueline and Jacquelyn also here, I sometimes have to squint at the screen to recall whose words I am reading.

My brother and his wife named my nephew with a very old-fashioned name and then chose to spell it in a very offbeat fashion. He has had a decade and a half of explaining what is name is because almost no one recognizes it and those who do find out they do not spell it his way.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:12 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


Oh, the one time I got annoyed was when someone signed up for Facebook with my email. That one I actually did a password change for and deleted the friends and the couple of posts, which was maybe kind of mean but I was cranky and it was not an account I wanted employers thinking was mine, a little too much drug enthusiasm.
posted by tavella at 10:13 AM on September 8 [9 favorites]


My main "throwaway" email address is a real word, but I chose it randomly - a mythical fictional thing that I thought could be used to identify my "self" at the time I chose it.
Unfortunately, it also seems to be the first initial and last name of 2 people who type their email addresses incorrectly on a regular basis. Or perhaps other people wrongly assume their address... I can't be sure.
One lives in the southern U.S.A., the other in Scotland: I get invites to family reunions, grocery order confirmations, follow-up on sporting teams, photos from relatives, tickets to plays, etc.
I haven't completely "given up" as Sara Morrison has; I'm not giving up my email address anyway.
Occasionally I reach out (like for a job offer) and let the person know on the other end that they should try another method to contact the person. Mostly though, I don't. It's happened often enough over many years that I know it's not spam when I see it, but mostly I just delete it.
posted by Laura in Canada at 10:13 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


There's a realtor in Florida with my same first initial and last name who uses my email address as a throwaway for everything. I get a loyalty summary every time he goes to the casino, any professional trade association stuff he signs up for, and can sign in as him on a social network specifically for Navy veterans. It's annoying, but the more than anything else the dude's lucky I'm a good guy, since he's basically begging me to steal his identity at this point.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:17 AM on September 8 [9 favorites]


I am also first.lastname@gmail and I share my name with a former CEO of a cable television network. The number of sensitive emails I get for him are crazy. I know when he's house shopping, when he's being invited to parties, what church he goes to, and much more. Most recently he was buying a $12,000 sofa. I usually try to let people know the email is the wrong person and if they could please let him know to be more careful. One time they opened an Instagram account and I logged in, changed the password, and uploaded a picture of a post-it that said "stop using this email". But it never stops.
posted by msbutah at 10:18 AM on September 8 [30 favorites]


I managed to get lastnamefirstname@outlook.com to my surprise. Neither name is especially uncommon and when I initially pitched it the other way around, outlook suggested maybe I might like to be firstnamelastname26 or something.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:18 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I've got several of these doppelgangers, but my favorite are the ones I call "The Twins" -- they've both got my name, they're both British, and they both live near London.

...one of them is the kind of guy who spends $900 on a shirt and has ordered catering for a party at a castle in Scotland, while the other gambles at shitty online poker, signs up for shit delivery jobs, and yells at his mates for leaving soiled condoms in the "band studio".
posted by aramaic at 10:19 AM on September 8 [37 favorites]


Ohhhh this is me to a tee. I've been calling it 'the cendawanitas in my inbox'. Even lost access to my own Gmail for a few years! I had set up forwarding so i got every email, but that just means I'm well-informed of every one of these cendawanitas who kept signing up for things, who lived all over the world. I still think there's a Gmail glitch, because one (or all) of them kept using my email address to the point it confused Gmail's internal metrics,
so even when i had all the correct recovery numbers/emails, that one fateful day i forgot my password meant i couldn't even reset it because, idk, i guess the inbox kept coming up with flags. I got the right recovery codes and still, 'gmail cannot verify your account'. Months of back and forth with actual human IT too. I keep requesting if there is some way to prove my identity, i mean, i pay for my Google One subscription with that email. Yet! In the meantime, more and more stupid newsletters and actual doctors appointments get sent to me. One of them even had an annoying colleague.

Idk what happened this year, but it was a lucky break of me actually being at my laptop (so within the time range for the code validity) and one of those cendawanitas initiating their own recovery process, so i got to take over the process (to my own email!), used the code i was forwarded with and reset my password. Though not without Gmail asking me to sign in at every refresh after that because my email was apparently behaving oddly. No kidding. The cendawanita of that email apparently lives in KL, London, San Diego and Mumbai all at once!

But i wasn't hacked. My 2-factor authentication was still as i left it. All my other secondary contacts were unchanged. These other cendawanitas have been so persistently confused, and so persistently using my email for messages they never got, that what started as a funny thing in my life really would've been bleak if i didn't get my account back.

Mind you, this only happened with the name my mother designated as my daily name because my actual birth name is too unusual, and yep, never been bothered with that one. Too distinct too, which is its own set of problems.

But a couple of these cendawanitas are truly testing me. It's clear my email has been their throwaway email for signups. Another one i ended up calling the Marriot to cancel their account. Yet another one i had to tell the Pfizer sales rep to say that I'm not a doctor, and please stop emailing me for a meeting. And one of them has been trying to recover their access to Facebook too, and one day I'll lose my patience and would actually make a public post on their account.
posted by cendawanita at 10:20 AM on September 8 [7 favorites]


There's only one other person in the US with my name and I have a firstinitialsurname@gmail.com address. Sure enough I've gotten a lot of email intended for them, most of it concert mailing lists, etc. But for a while there I was getting reports of his daughter's day at her preschool, including sleep schedule, food eaten and the times she went to the bathroom, including if it was a #1 or #2.

After I put a stop to that I started getting emails about her first grade activities that I also had to put a stop to, largely because it's so damned creepy.
posted by mikesch at 10:21 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


My email address is similarly firstname.lastname@gmail.com and it is unbelievable how many other people sharing my name will sign up for stuff under my address.

So much this. Which is basically all metafilter's fault for clueing me in to the exciting new google mail when it came out.

I had about two years worth of people emailing me about whether my F150 was still available for purchase. I've had someone sending me the good news that they have sent me a very expensive wedding present (I let them know). I've had legal papers through for buying houses in Australia more than once (I let them know the first time). I've just had news through that my order of about $5000 of t-shirts has been cancelled.
posted by biffa at 10:22 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


this has been a regular thing for me for decades. In my infinite wisdom I got my first name last initial @gmail.com, and my first name is pretty common. Though at a certain point it became hard to tell what was misfired personal info and what's phishing. Like I routinely get batches of resumes addressed to a hiring manager with my name, but is that real or is it some scam? I can't tell.

Maybe relatedly I never send work or professional association stuff to my gmail account. The university I went to lets you keep your old email address as an "alumni account" which I figure is more professional looking and helps keep work and life seperate.
posted by selenized at 10:22 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Relevant xkcd
posted by little onion at 10:24 AM on September 8 [11 favorites]


I recently got the first wrong email at my longstanding email address at firstnamelastname@gmail.com - first time it's ever happened to me - and was immediately weirdly delighted to get to have an experience in common with folks with more common full names. (I let the sender know that I was not the sciatrix who was apparently interested in genealogical tracing she had contacted; they never responded, which seems fair.)

I think there might be four of us active on the internet now! One of the other sciatrices got the fullname handle for Twitter, which will be a shame if I ever decide to change mine, but it is comforting to find that when I need a legalname sign-in for things my name is almost never taken.
posted by sciatrix at 10:25 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Years back, I registered adamsc@gmail.com. As you might imagine, I get a ton of messages for other people. This includes the expected level of spam from retail vendors and a ton of order confirmations but also things like legal documents; medical records; applications for loans, jobs, and colleges; dating site responses (same guy in England who's behind on his loans); bank statements; etc. I had a multi-week glimpse into a Southern black family's messages about their anticipation in the lead up to Obama's first election and the excitement of his win before I finally managed to get everyone to stop hitting reply-all without correcting Uncle Clyde's email address.

There's one sad story, a woman named Carletta who appears to have been financially struggling for at least a decade. I got job and loan application responses, saw her descent into Trumpist forums in 2016, and then most of last year and this year I've been getting messages from the City of Wichita's pandemic housing relief program about her application being incomplete, then pending, and, just recently, rejected. I had thought that I'd forwarded it to enough city email addresses that they'd corrected her records since I didn't get any messages for a few months until that rejection notice.

It is sad and disappointing to me how few companies make any effort to validate ownership of an email address. I've built public registration systems since the 90s so I understand why people choose not to have their registration flows require email address verification before using the site but it's still a bit surprising how few places, even large companies, will not send things like PII to unverified addresses. It still seems mildly surprising that there isn't some law firm suing at least the businesses about that but the number of home addresses and phone numbers I've received from places which provide no way to report errors makes it clear that nobody is worried about that.
posted by adamsc at 10:27 AM on September 8 [11 favorites]


Same as you all, but i got emails from the private secretary of a (now former) PRESIDENT of an African country. I got emails of his itinerary, his meetings, his barber appointment, and other sensitive issues. I really could have done a lot of shit with it, but my mama raised me right, so i contacted them and made them aware, and i got a thank you email in return.
In hindsight, i blame my mama for me being poor!
posted by ramix at 10:27 AM on September 8 [16 favorites]


a friend of mine shares a name with a very famous mystery author (with a slight variation in last-name spelling). Unfortunately, he happened to abbreviate his name for his gmail address in a way that was close enough to that mystery author that he occasionally gets personal e-mails to said mystery author. But at least that writer isn't signing up for netflix with my friend's gmail account or whatever.
posted by dismas at 10:27 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


There are at least two other people whose emails I get, and they both are substantially richer than me in a way that causes me no small amount of envy when I get emails from real estate agents and car dealerships.

One of them is a dermatologist in Kansas City. The other is a lady in Notting Hill - and in fact, I think, a capital-L Lady who grew up in a legit castle. Yesterday I got an invoice for ~650 Pounds (over $900 US), for a birthday party for a six-year-old, adressed "Dear Lady Emily."

If you are paying $900 for your six-year-old's birthday party - not for the whole party, mind you, just for the comedian/magician - can you at least have the courtesy to keep the emails out of the mailboxes out of the merely lower-middle-class?

If for no other reason than to avoid the temptation of identity theft?
posted by Jeanne at 10:30 AM on September 8 [7 favorites]


The discussion of email's history in the article reminded me of an illuminating historical snapshot: aroundabout 1975, Don Woods wanted to get in touch with Will Crowther requesting permission to modify his widely redistributed game "Colossal Cave Adventure" (to produce what would later become famous as simply "Adventure"). But Woods had no idea who or where Crowther was, or really anything about him other than his name and his identity as the author of "Colossal Cave Adventure", so he sent an email to the username crowther at every single domain name in existence. Back then that was a less insane undertaking than it would be today (and it actually worked!).
posted by jackbishop at 10:31 AM on September 8 [17 favorites]


I have commonspanishname.initial@gmail.com, so I get a LOT of this stuff, from all over Latin America. I also own a the .cl domain for a common word that's used by many, many businesses. I get a lot of mail for schools, clinics, etc..
Some of it is heartbreaking, parents of children with learning problems begging for second chances, terminally ill patients, etc.
I also get billing and collections emails that aren't for me but always spike my adrenaline for 1 second when they show up in my inbox.
posted by signal at 10:31 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I have an (adjective)@gmail.com address that can sometimes be a version of an abbreviated name. I get a handful of e-mails a week meant for other people- There's a guy who owns a ford in Auburn that really needs an oil change, and a professor of biology who has a lot of students who want into her Masters program.

However, the best one was an actress? I assume? Who was auditioning on Broadway and getting callbacks WITH MUSIC to my e-mail. So I'd get things like the music/lyrics to new musicals in my inbox with big ol' DO NOT SHARE things. I always wondered what happened to her, because I could never figure out who it was supposed to be.
posted by Torosaurus at 10:33 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I am pretty sure that my firstname lastname combination is unique on the planet. I have it anywhere I want to sign up, generally.
However, there is apparently one family with that combination as hyphenated lastnames, I very occasionally get email mis-addressed to one of them (their gmail address is actually mine with an additional initial and . in front).
I let whoever it is know that I'm not who they are looking for. It's easy to tell as they appear to live across the planet from me.
posted by PennD at 10:33 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I guess everyone with my initials & last name really has our shit together email-wise. I guess we're just really on the ball.
posted by bleep at 10:34 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I have a somewhat uncommon last name, so I have actually tracked down the handful of other “M. Brubecks” who frequently give out my email address by accident. A few of them have written back asking about family connections, and we have managed to trace our common ancestors.
It might be hard for me to convey the level of astonishment I felt as someone with an extremely common last name (Adams) when a friend pulled up whitepages.com, typed in his last name (which wasn't very common even in their ancestral Italy), and proceeded to list their relationship to almost every listing for the entire United States. There were only one or two people he wasn't certain were relatives, but they lived in the same area as a branch of the family which his side had drifted out of contact with.
posted by adamsc at 10:36 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I've had my full name @ gmail for a decade. Despite having an ordinary-seeming Anglo-American name, due to a slightly uncommon spelling of my first name, I'm google unique for my spelling. I never appreciated it before, but I've never had this happen to me!
posted by little onion at 10:36 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I don't normally have this problem, except for one very specific circumstance. When I signed up for a customer loyalty card to a book store way back in the dark ages, I signed up with an alias email address that is tied to an alias name I use for signing up for unimportant things. (I try to do this for most loyalty programs, and have been doing so since the late 1990s or early 2000s, but it is getting harder and harder to do so these days.) I experienced no problems for decades but about three years ago, I started seeing strange transactions on the loyalty account. Points wiped out. Points added, etc. After numerous back-and-forths between myself and the book store's head office and retail outlets, we finally got to the bottom of it.

A woman in a city about 100km away works in a mall where the book store has a retail outlet. I guess she doesn't carry her loyalty card or her purse when she strolls through the mall on her lunches/breaks, but she does go into the bookstore to make purchases. Her usual means of accessing her loyalty account was to verbally tell the cashier her email address--except every time she gave out my alias address.

Once we finally figured out the issue, the problem was resolved and the woman quit doing that (I think a note was also left on the account to bring it to the attention of the clerk behind the register), but it was still frustrating because I really had no way of proving the email address was mine, since it wasn't tied to my actual name. I never had a lot of points on it, and I was willing to walk away from the account entirely.

For the record, our reading tastes are nothing alike.
posted by sardonyx at 10:36 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I've done pretty well with first name period middle initial period last name, even though there's someone with my same first-middle-last name combo who lives in my state. (Found him on Facebook, and he definitely doesn't share my politics, so I've been really lucky, actually.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:37 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I keep getting so many things another me is signing up for. They use no period gmail when mine is first.last. They even signed up for internet and an Amazon account and got a bunch of free apps for their kid on it.

I'm baffled continually why they do it.

I'm tempted to cancel their internet because I'm so baffled and annoyed. I have a very strange last name so there is literally only one other person with my first/last.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:38 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I also have firstnamelastname@gmail.com, and it is a fascinating window into the lives of other people. I've gotten an invitation to attend baptism via zoom (alerted sender to the issue, didn't want the other adridne to miss a family event), communications from angry customers (I'm sorry your vacuum broke under mysterious circumstances, but check that email address), lawyers, and one invitation to a job interview in which they emailed me the passcode to the gated entrance of a private school in Australia. I felt sorry for that one- it was a group email, and the sender was obviously going to have to resend it, thus alerting everyone that she had sent out the gate code to some internet rando.
Recently I've been getting mail from a lawyer connected to the Australian, and also her... business partner? Husband? I used this opportunity to ask him for her email address, so I could give it to confused persons, but he hasn't written back. I am surprisingly annoyed by this.
posted by Adridne at 10:39 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I have had divorce papers, invitations to parties and sports matches, monthly credit card bills, medical appointments, and it sometimes it boils down to people not putting the dots in their gmail addresses. I know some of the culprits for mine one should go xxxx.m.mxxxxx but they leave out the dots and don't type both ms and another should go xxxxxl1@.... which is visually hard too. My first name also has multiple spellings so I get a lot of those as well. I suspect many are dictated over the phone to people without being checked. I've almost given up forwarding things just in case since I get very little thanks for doing it. And as pointed out above there's all the unsubscribes that need login details. Grrrrr
posted by bifurcated at 10:45 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Software developer and user with firstname.lastname@gmail.com. I missed a medical appointment because the secretary thought it said 'dove' instead of 'dave'. Multinational where I work bought a company with a Swiss office - the umlauts broke lots of stuff.
posted by kersplunk at 10:45 AM on September 8


They use no period gmail when mine is first.last.

gmail disregards periods, more likely they're dropping a middle initial
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:46 AM on September 8 [26 favorites]


phunniemee at gmail.com

there can only be one
posted by phunniemee at 10:47 AM on September 8 [9 favorites]


I have a somewhat uncommon last name, so I have actually tracked down the handful of other “M. Brubecks” who frequently give out my email address by accident. A few of them have written back asking about family connections, and we have managed to trace our common ancestors.

Did the topic of having your own asteroid come up? (And your own Dave?)
(Sorry about the random comment, it's just an exciting name when you grew up with jazz lovers)
posted by trig at 10:48 AM on September 8


I get a lot of emails from people looking to get in touch with their tattoo artist.
posted by Inkslinger at 10:49 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I got an gmail address early enough that I could have had nearly anything I wanted, except my actual first name as that was owned by one of the first 50 google employees who I had gone to college with. Of course, it was early enough that I didn't exactly realize how valuable it would be to have an email address that could be easily said over the phone and had minimal conflicts so I'm not in much better shape than the firstname.lastname crowd.

Also, I know a Sara Morrison. But not that one, which is kind of the point.
posted by true at 10:51 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I swear this is how I remember things - there was a point at which Gmail would let people use punctuation or dashes or underscores or whatever as a unique identifier when they were signing up for a Gmail account - so FirstnameLastname@gmail was different from Firstname.Lastname@gmail, or from Firstname-Lastname@gmail, etc. However, for whatever reason, Gmail one day decided to drop that distinction, so you could sign up for FirstnameLastname@gmail as your address, and if someone typed "Firstname-Lastname@gmail" it would still get to you. Of course, by then there were several instances of people with the same name who'd already signed up for Gmail accounts, with one person using the dash and another a dot or whatever, so their emails had been kept separate - but after Gmail dropped this distinction, they were now suddenly combined.

I'd signed up for a Firstname.Lastname gmail account early on, for some small project I'd been working on that ultimately kinda fizzled so the gmail wasn't really getting any use. I still checked it periodically, sometimes using it as a more "professional" email account when I was on a job hunt. But then after Gmail made that switch, suddenly I was getting all these emails for another person with my name, a wedding planner in Virginia, who'd used a dash. I was never certain whether she was seeing those missives and I think I reached out once or twice to check, and she confirmed that yes, she was seeing them. She seemed a little confused about how I was also seeing them and I explained the Gmail thing, and she just kind of gave a confused-but-I'll-go-with-it acknowledgement - and then I'd get even more emails meant for her.

Then one day her husband sent her a slightly naughty email - which I saw. And at that point I decided that welp, since I wasn't ever really using that gmail account anyway, it was probably safest if I just walked away and left her with it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on September 8 [10 favorites]


Email is an awful online ID that we use for almost everything.

The problem is real, but this is a bad sub-headline, I think. Email addresses are more distinct than phone numbers in terms of numbers of characters, etc., yet phone numbers are significantly more potent and also assumed to be somehow... safer?
posted by Going To Maine at 10:52 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


So...is this something I'd have to be using a gmail account to understand (says person with own .com domain)?

[and yes, eponysterical, I guess!]
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:53 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]


No, I know that gmail disregards periods. They are signing up for so many things. I've looked them up. I think they're just painfully stupid.

They signed up for a ton of job alerts like a month back. That was probably the saddest thing because he's not even going to get them.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:54 AM on September 8


I've been receiving town council emails from South Carolina (not my state) for a number of years, despite my efforts to get them to stop, so I've given up.

Visit scenic Bluffton, heart of the Lowcountry.
posted by detachd at 10:56 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Paul Duguid, a professor at the University of California Berkeley who studies the history of information

Nominative determinism!
posted by clew at 10:57 AM on September 8 [10 favorites]


The earliest official reference to gmail's treatment of '.' and '+' that a quick search turned up is from 2008. It links to another post that no longer exists.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:01 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


This is only a problem when everyone decides to use email addresses under a single domain hosted by a single provider.
posted by joeyh at 11:04 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I'm constantly getting UPS notifications for someone with my same first initial/last name. Like multiple times a day. I've tried going in to UPS's website to fix it but it never works. So dozens of emails from one company that aren't for me. I get a few others maybe once every six months. But Kelly apparently orders a ton of stuff through UPS.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:10 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


This is only a problem when everyone decides to use email addresses under a single domain hosted by a single provider.

Not necessarily - more domains might mean fewer emails from people forgetting their own addresses, but still plenty from people who hear "my address is foo@bar.com" and remember/type it as "foo@gmail.com".
posted by trig at 11:10 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I have firstname.lastname@gmail.com, and my name is unique enough that this hasn't caused any issues. I know that there's at least one Firstname Lastname back in the Old Country, which is convenient because she's my Facebook and Instagram decoy. But she's younger than I am, so I beat her to the address. The problem I have is preventing other people from spelling it Fristnamma Lastnaem, or whatever crazy thing they decide to improvise that day, when I dictate my email address over the phone.
posted by confluency at 11:10 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


...so he sent an email to the username crowther at every single domain name in existence. Back then that was a less insane undertaking than it would be today (and it actually worked!)

Back then Woods would still have needed to know the explicit route to each of those domains. Sending blind emails like that could still be a pretty daunting task.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 11:11 AM on September 8


Got the firstlate@gmail as I was an early invite, and it's a common enough name among the Irish diaspora that I get the occasional receipt for Dominos in Australia or Guinness coupons for pub chains, etc. I imagine those as bleary-eyed phone input. Best mistaken identities :

3. Dentist's photographs of a bendybendy's back teeth
2. March 2020 lengthy description of catching and surviving COVID symptoms after a trip to Florida.
1. Being informed that I made the Canadian Speed Skating Olympic team.
posted by bendybendy at 11:14 AM on September 8 [11 favorites]


Was bang-path addressing in use before UUCP's release? I had thought it was just user@host on the early ARPANET, and relied on curated host lists? And then DNS came along in the early 80s. If so, maybe the sendmail equivalent would have taken crowther@* and tried to send the message to every system listed in the local hosts file.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:18 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I'm glad I'm not alone. sometimes it makes me regret moving from @perfectlyuniquedomain.com to @gmail.com, because nobody could accidentally enter the former....
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 11:21 AM on September 8


Me too. I flag things as spam at this point, because a lot of it is probably phishing, sometimes obviously so. And I have no sympathy for organisations that can't be bothered to use "click to confirm your email address" emails. If they just accept whatever people enter without question, then the net effect is that they are, in fact, sending unsolicited emails: ie. spam.

As much as it sucks, I still prefer email over everything else. The problem is that email has been around a long time, but this is also its greatest strength. Unlike the parade of chat apps that we've seen over the years, It isn't some corporate-owned product made to entice enough users for the purpose of monetising them. Email has been around since long before whatsapp, discord, and slack, and will be around long after those things are consigned to the dustbin of history.
posted by swr at 11:22 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]


I have the gmail account associated with my MeFi username (which is my online identity pretty much everywhere) - just "bellman" [at] gmail.com - no "the". I got it (along with a bunch of other names I thought might be cool) back in the early days of gmail. It's not my main account but I use it for stuff likely to generate spam.

It gets an ENORMOUS amount of garbage. Not only the personal emails of a half dozen people named Ellman (two Barbaras and two Roberts (Bobs) being the most frequent offenders) but also emails directed to and among an eye-watering variety of hotel concierge desks. Do people think that all hotel bellmen share the same account? How do they think this works?

And don't get me started with what arrives at "strangelove".
posted by The Bellman at 11:28 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


I might be on the dumb side of this phenomenon. I have a whimsical gmail address that I use for most things and a firstname.lastname@outlook.com that I use for formal stuff like job applications. It's very possible that at some point I typed "gmail" instead of "outlook" in a web form.

I just sent an email to that address asking if it was in use and apologizing if I've sent crap their way.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:31 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I posted an AskMe about this 12 years ago.
One of the more memorable misdirected emails I've gotten was a reply to my namesake from someone who was helping her review an attached letter apologizing to her employer for having taken nude photos of herself with the camera in her work laptop.
posted by obloquy at 11:31 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I’m lastnamefirstname@, and I have two guys who use my email address pretty often. Guy #1seems to be in his early 20s and has tried a bunch of different MLMs, mostly nutrition based. He applies for (and is declined) credit cards all the time. And short term loans. And is constantly signing up for mobile game accounts. Guy #2 flips houses in Indiana and I’m sent closing documents, HOA agreements, etc all the time. Like, Docusign-type stuff.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:32 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


My firstnamelastname@ is uncommon enough that it doesn't see a whole lot of this kind of stuff, but my commonword@ is used quite frequently by people who are trying to provide a fake throwaway email address and land on mine instead--terrible online games, dating sites that look like they appeared on an episode of Law ^& Order: SVU, pet grooming loyalty programs, that kind of thing.

I'll try to unsubscribe, or to do a password reset and then either delete the account or change the email address to something random like "hugedumbass@gmail.com" so that my email address is not polluted with the other person's mail.

Me too, except that hugedumbass@gmail.com is very possibly a real person who doesn't like unsolicited mail any more than you do. When they let me, I use an old favorite: spam@uce.gov

(This will probably be the cue for someone to come along and be like, 'Hi, I work for the Federal Trade Commission, please stop doing that.')
posted by box at 11:49 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I don't get any strange incoming emails.
Dave@BarnesFamily.com (Barnes was taken by Barnes Engineering at the time.)

Smart people get their own domain names.
posted by davebarnes at 11:51 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I love getting these emails. The parents' listserv for a Montreal youth hockey team, the high-powered job offer in Brussels, the eye appointments in Pittsburgh, the contractor's quotes in DC... I love them all.
posted by entropone at 11:51 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


Two separate people have signed up for bank accounts with my email! I even tried to call and fix the US based one but you can't even access their call center without an account number. Tried contacting them through Facebook and they promised it was fixed but it wasn't. Also, it's impossible to unsubscribe from account information emails so all you can is filter them. Now all I do is keep a list in my heart of companies I hate for their shoddy email practices.

I have spent so much time coaching older ladies from the peak Carol generation that no matter how many times you email the same address asking "did you get this," it's always going to go to me. Some therapist must have used my email address somewhere because I get job offers all the time. It's extra fun when you take the time to tell someone about their mistake and get the response "well fuck u then." Sigh.
posted by carolr at 12:02 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]


For people who need fake substitute email addresses that nonetheless pass muster for most web forms, I use something@example.com.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:03 PM on September 8 [5 favorites]


I have a whole tumblr dedicated to this problem. (It's my username dot tumblr dot com, though it's long neglected at this point. Maybe this is the cue to take the most recent 300+ emails and add them to my tumblr queue...)

My email address is a coveted exclamation @gmail.com and I get daily email that a human definitely signed up for. Car insurance quotes (a fella with an Audi in the UK), mall and airport wifi use, coupons, Party City receipts from someone in Canada, more porn and sex chat sites than I thought could possibly exist, dating sites, gambling sites, personality tests, etc. I honestly enjoy it for laughs except for the sex chat sites which are always a nightmare to unsubscribe from.

The most time-consuming instance was a woman who, in the week before US Thanksgiving 2018, ordered a new stove and refrigerator. I received all her receipts and they emailed me to set up a delivery appointment. I spoke with several people at the store on the phone to try and explain that they were sending me email for someone else and they should call her so she could actually get her stuff before the holiday. I was told repeatedly that they would remove the email address and just use her phone number but then they emailed me a scanned copy of her driver's license and a "this is your last chance to set up delivery" note. I ended up just making an appointment on her behalf and hoping she was home. (She was! I know because I also received a copy of the signed delivery verification and installation agreement.)

I have the same coveted exclamation user name on most of the socials (all the way back to LiveJournal) and have dealt with more password reset requests than I can count. Several offers to buy my name too. I ask for a proof of a $10k donation to the Trevor Project and I'll give it up for free. No one has taken me up on it so far.
posted by komlord at 12:06 PM on September 8 [21 favorites]


I'd mostly be a "yup. Me, as well" (horse lady in the UK, propellant huffer in Australia, TGIFriday's fan in Arkansas, military pharmacist) but I happen to share a name with a minor but significant character in a very fannish fandom, so I have a tumblr sign-up for someone in Germany that I kept because it amused me). So, also getting email for someone who doesn't even exist.

I have occasionally thought about starting a Facebook group for us (I have been successful tracking peolpe down there at times), but that seems like work.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:07 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I go into this in more depth in my MeFi profile, but back in the day I obtained the address "jeremias@yahoo.com". (I'm not exposing myself to spambots here, I stopped using it 20+ years ago). I don't even have words for what's in that in-box (4657 unread). All the spam, for sure. But also countless signups, registrations, receipts, photos, you name it. Turns out having a common name email is not the same as having prime real estate.

I also own the domain "artmatter dot com" from the days when I was planning on creating an artist website and I still use that email occasionally for legacy reasons. Last year I got a car repair quote sent to me for a Mr. "Art Matter", I felt guilty about that one and returned it to sender to make sure it ended up in the right place.

I hold out hopes that Art becomes famous one day and makes me an offer.
posted by jeremias at 12:08 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


at myfirstname.mylastname@gmail a few years ago I got a lot of job applications that made it clear that someone entered my email into multiple job search platforms in Illinois. It has stopped now, not sure why.

But now someone has signed me up for a poly dating service which has led to some... interesting messages. I've set a filter to delete anything with the relevant keywords and can just imaging my name-twin wistfully wondering why no one is messaging them for hot kinky threesomes.
posted by buildmyworld at 12:09 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


For people who need fake substitute email addresses that nonetheless pass muster for most web forms, I use something@example.com.

nospam@nothanks.com usually passes muster too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:13 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


As far as I can tell my name is unique in the world so I don't really have this problem. However a long time ago I signed up for a throwaway alliterative .@gmail that I occasionally use for sending silly messages. There is a woman in Minnesota that orders food and signs up for crochet newsletters and job interviews using this address!?!
posted by mmascolino at 12:14 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I always wondered how many people dealt with this. I have a very uncommon last name, but have still managed to get hit with two first initial, last name twins who are bad at their own email addresses - one is a lady in Australia, and that's mostly cosmetic subscription boxes and airport parking reservations, but the other is an aspiring college student in the US and you know who is the worst, spammiest emailer out there? Colleges. My god, it's like forever whack-a-mole.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:16 PM on September 8 [5 favorites]


oops missed the edit window...that was supposed to be aliterative adjective.animalname just like the Ubuntu Release Names.
posted by mmascolino at 12:24 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I feel so seen! I'm not entirely sure if the other "firstinitiallastnames@gmail.com" are using mine as a dropbox for shady and/or undesirable emails, thus knowingly hampering me with it, or if they're just truly clueless.
posted by hoborg at 12:25 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


To R. of Sydney: your union rep has wanted to talk for a long while. Thank you for the lingerie mailing list, that’s unexpected fun. Also, your test results were negative, so yay! But I really hope you had another avenue for finding that out.

Love, someone in the US with your last name.

PS sorry that house offer fell through.
posted by dragstroke at 12:39 PM on September 8 [7 favorites]


I am blessed with a perfectly unique name -- my great-grandpa and his siblings made the last name up when they arrived in America and we're a small enough family that everyone knows everyone's first names so there's no doubling up. There was one kerfuffle in the 1940s when two brothers both married women named Gladys but it didn't seem to bother them too much until both women ended up in the same old-folks' home and they had to get everyone to add middle initials to their mailing addresses. But, I digress.

Recently somebody bought a brand new 2021 Dodge Charger, and when you have such a fancy car you sign up for Dodge's online service, which asks for your phone number, and they put in my phone number somehow. Pretty much immediately after he signed up I started getting texts about the car, some of which may have been directly from the car? I don't know but it was a pain.

Since it was my phone number on the account it let me do a username recovery (it texted it to me), then a password reset (texted me the confirmation link), and once I was in I was able to change the phone number and find the email associated with the account to let him know the new password and that he had the phone number wrong.

But, boy, if you have access to the phone number associated with an account it gives you access to everything.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:39 PM on September 8 [8 favorites]


Big lulz and jokes about being a narcotraficante when my wife got the notification of a very large wire transfer going through between accounts in a South American country. She's also gotten an xbox account signup in Korea that changed her default language to Hangul when she finally signed up for a Microsoft account. Jesus did that take forever to clear up. Also some Scandinavian engineering students receipt for a fishing license.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:46 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]


My first and last names are reasonably common but I include my middle initial in my gmail address. I've had that for over 20 years, and so far I've pretty much avoided receiving the sorts of misrouted email being described by folks in this thread.

Whenever I'm required to enter an email address on some website but it's just a nuisance/marketing thing and not something I will ever need to use as an important identifier or login, I give a totally made-up name/domain like "smarzemblaine.flibble@bogus.com", which I think is invalid enough to avoid any ripple effects of me being indirectly responsible for sending annoying spam to some poor unsuspecting innocent person. (And Smarzemblaine Flibble, if you actually do exist I apologize profusely!)
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:55 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


There's someone (perhaps more than one someone?) in Indonesia who goes on occasional sprees of signing my gmail address up for various things -- game sites, shopping accounts, dating sites, etc. Thankfully, many of these attempts fall short these days because so many sites require you to click on a link in their initial email response to your request to set up an account, as a confirmation of the request. Would-be-me-from-Indonesia is not receiving these emails, so he can't follow through on his initial requests. So for me, this is a minor irritant at worst, and it's sometimes amusing to see what he's trying to sign up for.

What's more alarming is that sometimes after a failed spate such of account signups, I receive notifications from Google that someone is attempting to recover my Google account, and please confirm if this is in fact me attempting to recover it. On occasion he has tried a dozen times or more in a single morning to recover my account, to no avail. Of course, this is the 2-factor authentication working as it is supposed to, and thank goodness for that. But it can still feel unsettling!
posted by fikri at 1:07 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I give a totally made-up name/domain like "smarzemblaine.flibble@bogus.com"

bogus.com is a valid domain and a lot of personal domains like that are setup to have one catch all mailbox for everything.
Even if you find a domain thats not in use, theres nothing to say it wont be registered tomorrow.

Trump.com might be a better choice
posted by Lanark at 1:09 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


People who have signed up for things thinking their email was 'fedward' include, but are not limited to:

* Somebody in Ohio who needed warranty service on a Seagate hard drive (giving me his full name and address) but who also signed up for a "married but lonely" dating service using a fake name, but giving his location as the same city in Ohio;
* Somebody in Seattle who got a bunch of "want to sell your house" emails and notice every time their Toyota needed service;
* Somebody in the Caribbean with an account at RBC bank, whose relative periodically sends them money;
* Someone in South Africa who bought a Toyota Hilux truck, the security tracker for it, and financing through Toyota (again, ALL the PII);
* Somebody looking for a house in the Chicago suburbs, whose arrest records I found from the info they'd submitted on the realtor's web site;
* A union member in Chicago (dunno if it's the same person as above, but the union will NOT remove my email from their lists);
* Several people who have signed up for Instagram;
* Some dumbass (I think possibly the same dumbass every time) who has signed up for several video game online services (some multiple times), Netflix, and Peacock.

I also got invited to somebody's wedding and when I emailed to say they'd emailed the wrong address they said I'd already proven I was probably a better person than the person they meant to invite, told me to come anyway, and guaranteed a good time.

That's not even counting the ones who give some form of my firstname.lastname address, which one company in Virginia kept using to send me information about the next job I had to do or when my invoices were due. That took about two months to stop.

People are the worst.
posted by fedward at 1:12 PM on September 8 [9 favorites]


I was early enough and have an uncommon enough last name that i'm just lastname@gmail. Amazingly, I only rarely get misdirected email, possibly because that's a rarer practice despite being more concise. More than once messages have been for one of my parents, from the sender putting a space in the address instead of a period.
posted by supercres at 1:15 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Fun fact: Gmail ignores full stops. So firstname.lastname us the same as firstnamelastname, etc.
posted by Dysk at 1:17 PM on September 8


I am related to everyone in the world with my last name -- we're a new-world misspelling -- and since my Gmail address is first initial-last name, I do from time to time get emails from my doppelgangers. But it happens not all that often, because there aren't that many of us in the world with my last name, so it's not like a vast annoyance in my life. And, thanks to social media, it has usually been easy enough to track down the person it was intended for, who is usually embarrassed and grateful.

My two frequent correspondence are a woman my mother's age who is starting to have some memory problems, and sometimes enters my email as hers. The first time this happened was 20 years ago when I was planning a wedding, and her son was also planning a wedding, and I emailed her the wedding planning documents that had been sent to me by mistake, she congratulated me on my wedding, I congratulated her on her son's wedding, and in the intervening years we have had very cordial emails when something has been miss sent to me. Now I have her son's address, now that she is making more mistakes and occasionally having important documents sent to me, I'm able to forward them to him so that he doesn't miss a medical benefit thing because she mistyped. It's sort of like a shadow world of watching how my mother could be aging, although thankfully her mental faculties are all intact still.

My other doppelganger is a French student in Paris who travels home to Normandy on her school breaks. (My ancestors were part of the cod fishing French groups that went back and forth between Montreal and the North Coast of France, So most of us are in the new world, but a few stayed long enough to get their misspelling, and then went back to the North Coast of France.) Anyway, she sometimes forgets to add the numbers at the end of her Gmail address when she's in a hurry, and I was able to find her on Facebook, ask is this you?, And I've now forward her those things when they arrive to me and correctly. I tell her in very bad French that I hope school is going well and she has a nice vacation with her family, and she tells me that my kids are getting so big in their pictures on Facebook.

Anyway, I feel a lot of affection for these two women, and the strange little way we're connected. If I had a much more common name, I imagine this would be annoying, and not an opportunity for a tiny personal connection with people with very different lives for mine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:21 PM on September 8 [21 favorites]


Back in the day, I was foolish enough to create a GEnie account named WELCOME. (The reason why is a long and kind of stupid story.)

I got a couple of emails per week (which was a lot, back then) from people typing their subject lines or even the body of their email into the wrong field.
posted by Foosnark at 1:22 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


My common male first name plus middle initial make a common female name (Michael to Michaela), so I've gotten mail from a few michaelalastnames. The most common one is a woman in England who likes to camp. I also got to read her history essay. I've let her know a few times that this is the wrong address, 3rd time it seemed to finally stick.
posted by Carillon at 1:25 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I too have firstname.lastname@gmail.com, and my name is pretty common. The website howmanyofme.com says there are over 6600 of me in the US alone. I get emails with purchase receipts, dating invitations, overbill notices, nastygrams from squabbling families... I've even received copies of X-rays, medical records, and legal documents. The worst are the subscriptions to organizations, newsletters and clubs that I've never visited.

For frequent spam, I try to unsubscribe. The worst is when the sender is DoNotReply and the only way to contact them is to submit a form, which requires me log in with credentials I don't have because it's not my account. For those, I figure out a unique filter in GMail and route them to the trash.

For emails that come from an actual person, I've drafted a template called Wrong Email that I can simply click-and-send from GMail. My says, "You have the wrong email address. Since Google (GMail) ignores punctuation, both first.last and firstlast @gmail.com come to me. Please delete my email from your database. If this email is on a group text, please create a new one that does not include my email." On the sig line I have my name and City, State, USA. Just to make it clear I'm not the first.last they are looking for.

In the end, it's a bit of a pain but worth it for the convenience of having first.last as my Gmail address.
posted by JParker at 1:37 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


davebarnes: "Smart people get their own domain names."

I got my own domain name when the web was young. It was a fairly common word + ".net". My ISP at the time sent all e-mail to that domain to me. I taught myself a little procmail and built a script to send an elaborate bounce message suggesting that the sender might have intended to reach one of these other similar domains.

Then a Hotmail clone was set up using a domain similar to my domain name, and the amount of misaddressed e-mail increased by an order of magnitude. I recall getting a fairly abusive message in response to my bounce message, insinuating that I had somehow illegally intercepted the guy's correctly addressed e-mail. Not long after, I gave up and sent everything that wasn't addressed to my exact e-mail address to the memory hole.
posted by adamrice at 1:51 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


I had a different name collision when applying to colleges; there's someone else with my first, middle, last and exact birthdate, which was all the ID info most colleges used at the time. Our paperwork got *very* confused.

I didn't like my first name much anyway, so I changed it when I went to college -- choosing from a list my parents made of first names with family connections. The one I picked hadn't been in the top 100 for at least a century. But the zeitgeist does its thing, and a few years later a movie star picked it for her child, and now I have 22 firstname-lastname matches in the US. (But I picked my own wildly adolescent second first name, so at least my *whole* name is probably still unique.)

slightly stranger is a Private's military headstone -- Civil War, WWI, I forget -- with my very femme first-last on it, although it seems to actually be last-first.
posted by clew at 1:54 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


My email address includes a shortened version of my first name using a less common spelling. I've received invoices for Lularoe for a person in Texas, an essay draft and an invitation to a birthday party for a person in Spain and the log in for a car purchase site in Argentina.

The most worrisome name collision was when I applied for a driver's license in North Carolina. The was, at the time, a woman in Washington state with the same full name and birthdate as mine who had a very long history of unpaid moving and parking violations. Thankfully the DMV official believed my assertion that I had never set foot in the state of Washington and granted my license.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 2:10 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


An amusing related anecdote. A while back I had a coworker with a very common first and last name, who'll I'll just refer to as Very-Common-Name. We both worked at Very-Large-Company, which had tens of thousands of employees. So, at any given time, there were at least half a dozen plausible, valid email address variations to reach any given individual who shared Very-Common-Name. At some point, all the Very-Common-Names got together and made the very sensible decision to create an email distribution list called "All Very-Common-Names @ Very-Large-Company". Its only purpose was to share misdirected email intended for Very-Common-Name.

The hilarious part is that the Very-Common-Name I worked with was the moderator of the distribution list, and he constantly got requests to join the list from people who were not named Very-Common-Name.
posted by tom_r at 2:33 PM on September 8 [9 favorites]


My wife once got a phone call back in the mid 80s

Caller: Is that Lisa Levitt in San Francisco?
Lisa: yes
Caller (confused, doesn't sound like Lisa): the Lisa Levitt who's father is Gene Levitt the psychologist?
Lisa: yes
(lots of confusion)

Turns out the two Genes had been getting each mail for years, the two Lisas had moved to SF at about the same time
posted by mbo at 2:35 PM on September 8 [10 favorites]


For about a year in 2017 or so, I was getting a lot of shopping receipts for Ickey Woods to my ickster@gmail.com account. They all seemed like legit orders.
posted by Ickster at 2:36 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I wish the dude in the bay area with my name would stop signing up for tantric sex workshops and dating sites. I don't want to know! lalalalalalala
posted by tmt at 2:36 PM on September 8 [6 favorites]


Gmail account since 2004. Registered it as mr.lastname@gmail. (Was in grad school at the time, considered registering dr.lastname, but as I wasn't yet done with the dissertation it seemed presumptuous!)

Fast forward to now. Various Matt, Michael, Mikaela, and Mike Lastname out there in the world who are for damn sure convinced that THEY are the one and only mr.lastname@gmail.com. Some highlights:
  • The ex-con in New Jersey who keeps using my address for job applications, and has a penchant for submitting it to shady online loan and gambling sites. Oh, and let's not forget his Verizon bill, which kept coming to me. I could have flat canceled the phone plan, as the bill itself included enough info for me to log in to the account.
  • The Navy guy in Florida who used it to sign up for Playstation Network, leading me down a rabbithole of endlessly explaining to Sony that yes, "mr.lastname@gmail.com" was the same as "mrlastname@gmail.com", that the period didn't matter, and why the f@#! do I need an actual Playstation to log into a Playstation account to cancel it? (it took THREE GODDAMN YEARS, but I triumphed, the account was shut down, my email address was apparently perma-banned from ever being used on the Playstation Network again, and based on their level of customer service and inability to verify ownership before allowing an account to be registered, I vowed to never spend one goddamn dime on Sony products from that day forward)
  • The real estate guy in the Seattle area, Michael, who spends his time using the address to sign up for golfing apps, porn sites, and other bullshit newsletters that end up in my inbox. Based on the communications sent my way I was able to determine his age, address, personal phone number, marital status, and approximate annual income. This was without any real attempt at trying - this crap just was divulged in messages sent to me.
  • The asshole in the UK who used my email to sign up for a flight, then had the nerve to be angry at me when I contacted him to tell him I was getting his electronic ticket and travel itinerary. As if it were somehow my fault. I was very fucking close to canceling his flight, just because he was such a goddamned ass. I reported to the airline that the info sent to me was sufficient to access AND EDIT his flight plans, had I desired to do so.
  • The yoga instructor in California who keeps getting me on the list for various "alternative medicine" garbage such as magic crystals and other such bullshit (especially egregious as I am a medical research scientist)
  • The nice man in Detroit who signed up for a bunch of services with AT&T, including TV and a security system. I've been an AT&T customer for nearly 20 years. My email is the primary on my account. No one at AT&T batted an eye at the idea that I would simultaneously use two different first names and live in two different cities. 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T customer service ended in the AT&T security rep screaming at me that I was somehow trying to commit fraud by impersonating the guy in Detroit, when all I was asking was to have his account removed from my email address. It took a lot of effort, and a side conversation with an individual who had media contacts, but I ended up on the phone with a fairly high-level AT&T executive who took the issue seriously and actually fixed it.
  • The teacher in Georgia who was using my email to communicate with students. I received a whole lot of class assignments. He ignored any attempt on my end to make him stop. I contacted the school superintendent, who also ignored me. I finally emailed everyone on the school board, pointing out that one of their teachers was using a personal email address as the preferred method of communicating with a bunch of under-18 students, and did they REALLY think this was AT ALL a good idea? Problem solved.
It goes on. Endlessly. Most of the time I make a good faith effort to remove my email from the mailing list, account, etc., subbing in a burner email if needed just to lock the person out of using my address. Occasionally it won't work, so I close the account (if possible) or in extreme cases just take over the damned thing so that the other person can't keep using it. But that generally results in a string of password reset attempts...

It's not the people who fuck up and use the wrong address that bother me the most - It's that the companies don't care. I am a member of several free online forums that take MORE steps to ensure account privacy than multiple major international corporations. 2 factor authentication and click a link to verify your email to access a Minecraft forum, but I can just plug in any old random email to create an account with Big International Finance Firm? It's ludicrous.posted by caution live frogs at 2:53 PM on September 8 [11 favorites]


I started getting emails about someone’s key making account for one of those kiosks a while back. Scary to think I might be able to reset the password and get their house key. Another one is when an insurance company sent me some guy’s invoice for several months. I emailed them to say they have the wrong address every time. Finally I found another email for the same office and copied it on the reply. Their reply: “What is the right address?” I told them they need to talk to the customer because I am not him. If it was the same person, it would be pretty easy to get his address from the insurance invoices and mail him a copy of the key.

I did try to find him on social media with the name and city, but no dice. If it did not stop, I might have sent him a letter or postcard.
posted by soelo at 2:55 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Twice within the last year I was sent money via PayPal followed by the panicked request for refunds. One about 400 bucks for puppies another time rent for a "penthouse" in Mexico City.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 3:14 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Given the odd spelling I use, and never having used my real name for an email account, I have not had this problem. Even though the name I have is shared by a MLB player, and an NBA player...

Do have problems with paypal people sending money to the wrong "Windowpane".

But, I feel I'm missing out on all the fun.
posted by Windopaene at 3:37 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I was early enough and have an uncommon enough last name that i'm just lastname@gmail. Amazingly, I only rarely get misdirected email, possibly because that's a rarer practice despite being more concise.

Interesting: me too on both counts! The only misdirected email I ever get comes from a distant relative in the Netherlands (who I only know about because of this). He is elderly and I think may be getting more forgetful and accidentally using mine more often, as the number of random Dutch emails in my inbox appears to be increasing.
posted by sir jective at 3:41 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


My early gmail account is uncommonlastname@gmail.com.

Unfortunately not as uncommon as I thought.

There is a guy near York who I know the address, telephone number, business address, National Insurance number, pension details and insurance details. If I wanted to commit identity theft then he would be screwed.

There is a nice lady near Bristol (who I managed to contact through Facebook) whose children I was getting emails about from their school.

There was a group email I thought was spam (because of the broken English) who turned out to be refugees and their English Red Cross contact. They were lovely.

A secretary from Barbour who was most insistent that I join their Zoom meeting.

There is a lady in Calgary, Alberta that keeps signing me up for things. I have her name, address and telephone number. The only thing that stops me phoning up and being sarcastic to her is the time zone difference with the UK.

I try and contact the businesses/websites most of these come from but they rarely get back to the original.
posted by antiwiggle at 3:53 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I signed up for an early gmail account, lots of people seem to have my emails address .... and get it wrong, for ages I got email when somone's little darling didn't show up at school.

Then someone used it to sign up to facebook, who didn't bother checking its validity ... so much facebook spam, you know you can't email facebook about something like this, you need a facebook account, but you can't sign up for a facebook account using "someone else's" email address .... I couldn't contact the guy .... in the end I changed his login password, created another dummy gmail account, changed the email to that and logged out forgetting the password .... which was great for a couple of weeks until facebook started to miss him and sending him spam on his OLD (my) email address .... never ever getting a facebook account, what a shit show

posted by mbo at 4:01 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I've made friends through misdirected emails. Charming retired chap in South Africa (he lives in the district that my road takes its name from.) His gmail has his initial in the middle, but his friends and travel agents sometimes miss it out.

The weirdest one was an email to a student who shared my name, at a university where I was teaching, from another lecturer (in a different department). I had to read it three times to realise it wasn't actually for me.

I do try to notify people that their message has arrived with the wrong addressee. Most of them are grateful. One or two are weirdly angry.
posted by Hogshead at 4:02 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


OMG this is me but the person who is doing this consistently uses my email address, and I don't think they actually use email. Every time I get a notice about an order that I didn't make, I go to the website, request a new password and change it, plus I delete this person's address. It's so annoying! At least she's not stupid enough to leave her credit card info online. I have a very uncommon last name but this woman in Florida's first name is my last name minus a letter = a very common first name. On review I see I'm lucky there's only one of these people!
posted by bluesky43 at 4:12 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


oh, the stories... I have been "blob" on most email systems since before the Internet was born. Yes, really. I worked at Apple, which had a very early Internet presence, so I grabbed that as my account. Then Apple decided that they would give you, gratis, the same name "@mac.com". Then they duplicated that to "@me.com" and "@icloud.com". So all three of those go to my now 30 year old personal account. I get a lot of spam.

There are several people in the UK who think my address is a throwaway account. One was signing up for dating sites. I changed their profile to indicate they liked doing stuff I was pretty sure they did not like, and changed the email address to "stopusingmy email@example.com" One was taking Uber rides; Uber thoughtfully provided me the means to give their driver a large, very large tip. (I didn't not take advantage of that offer, but I did write a postal note asking them not to misuse my email address.) I actually called and left a message for one woman in Cornwall who would not stop.

Someone in the Netherlands misuses my address, so I get quite a bit of Dutch spam. And recently I'm getting a lot of signups for Australian stores...

I get about 7-10 spam a day, unless I've been signed up for a dating site again, or for some marketing list. I prune myself off dating and store mailing lists; the rest go to the bit bucket.

My firstname.lastname@gmail.com continues to get a variety of misaddressed email for someone in Pennsylvania (mostly about cheerleading teams) and Indiana (mostly about purchasing automobiles.) I respond, letting them know I'm not that person.
posted by blob at 4:31 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


My early gmail account is uncommonlastname@gmail.com.

Unfortunately not as uncommon as I thought.


I've also got this. I sort of regret it, but I think I'm stuck with it now, the address is too embedded in my life. I'm pretty sure that 80%+ of the misdirected email I get is people writing "firstname lastname@gmail.com", which per the email spec gets parsed as two addresses "firstname", and "lastname@gmail.com". Weirdly, I almost never get email for people I'm actually related to (that I know of). For some reason the two biggest sources are someone in South Africa and someone in St Kitts.
posted by advil at 4:47 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, I totally had the same thing happen to me! I swear, I thought perhaps I made it up because soon after Google dropped the distinction between firstname.lastname and firstnamelastname all of the support documents and (if I remember right) the support I somehow got from someone at Google was that there never was a distinction and that no one else had every had the ability to have my very very common firstname.lastname/firstnamelastname@gmail.com address. Yet I was frequently getting emails addressed to firstnamelastname@gmail.com who were very clearly for someone else as well as getting firstnamelastname's replies to the sender (meaning clearly the name firstnamelastname@gmail.com address existed at least at one point in time if not at the same time as mine).

Anyway, at around the same time I ended up getting my own domain name, and every now and then I'll check my old gmail account and there are literally dozens of people with my name across the world that think they have my address (there are 2,800 people with my name in the US). Or maybe they really do??
posted by flamk at 4:58 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


i got firstname@gmail.com. it's a rather unusual first name that looks like a french abreviation, so i get ALL the spam in french. recently, i got legitimate mail in english (a reminder to make sure my voter registration was up to date) and gmail put it in the spam folder, because, get this: it was not in my usual language.
posted by Clowder of bats at 5:32 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]


I do this. On purpose, sorta.

For the last 25 years, way before typosquatting, reset/recovery hijacking and domain takeover was a thing, I've habitually registered [regionalswearwords]@[newhotness] (yes including the MF handle). I have quite a stable at this point.

I (think) it started in just idly pentesting input forms. I keep meaning to submit it to DefCon as a presentation but not sure my "cultural honeypot" of legal quagmires, viagra deliveries, porn signups, password resets, makes for more than a 5 minute curiosity. Might be more interesting as tracking canaries, I occasionally run several through Maltego (etc) to see what dark corner they reveal....
posted by bolix at 5:42 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I've never had that happen to me and am shocked to hear how common it is. There's a novel or movie in there to be made...

I used to have a less common but not that uncommon firstnamelastname at yahoo but included the year I opened the account. Now I've got what I thought was a clever sort of play on words with a less common provider and instead people just seem to think it's a bit odd.

I don't agree though with the suggestion from the article of making email more secure by adding more personal information to. Email addresses are already being tracked in so many ways I like be able to make throwaway accounts.
posted by blue shadows at 5:48 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I may be the only mutt.cyberspace on the planet but someone did sign up for their FAFSA with my email. So I found them on Facebook and let them know. And they blocked me. Fingers crossed for their technological and social education.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 5:50 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


My address is firstnamelastnamey@gmail.com, and in decades of having that address, at Gmail and Yahoo, I've never once received an email clearly for someone else. This has made me wonder whether some of my email is going to whoever has firstnamelastname@gmail.com.

Email wasn't really designed under the assumption that most people would use the same domain.
posted by Merus at 7:15 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I have not actually done it, but there have been times when I'm not being my Best Self when I've come this close <holds fingers two ångströms apart> to setting up a variation on the Mailing List From Hell.

The idea is that, should you discover the real email address of the person who added you to their petty drama with a typo, you add them to the list. Any similarly misdirected email (from any source) gets reflected to the list. And everyone who's on it, wants off -- and blames everyone else on the list.
posted by sourcequench at 7:28 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


a week ago I received mammography X-ray results intended for a Dr. Fedor in my email

needless to say I did delete the email pretty much right away
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:45 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


My email is firstname(last name before I got married)@gmail.com. My first and former last name aren't super common but there appears to be someone in Louisiana who keeps giving organizations my email. Last week I got notification that "my school aged child has been exposed to covid-19 and should self isolate/contact public health". I politely and quickly emailed the school back saying that I live in Canada and have a small human who is not in school yet. And that they would want to contact that person via phone. I keep thinking of that family/child and hope that everything is ok with how the pandemic is right now.
posted by snowysoul at 8:02 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Any similarly misdirected email (from any source) gets reflected to the list. And everyone who's on it, wants off -- and blames everyone else on the list.

mojojojo-evilest-thing.gif
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:09 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


Someone did this to my wife with their Amazon account. She kept getting email confirmation of what the other person had bought and there was no easy way to quickly see whether they were from purchase made on the other person's account or if someone had bought something on my wife's Amazon account.

She had to log in to her Amazon account every time to make sure it hadn't been purchased on her account. It took a long time to get an Amazon customer service person who even understood what the problem was, and even when they finally did, they didn't have any way of fixing it. My wife ended up just closing her Amazon account and setting up a filter to ignore any subsequent mail from Amazon to that email account.
posted by straight at 9:36 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


All the time!

Even though I got my first gmail account when they were still invite-only I wound up with firstinitialmiddleinitiallastname @ gmail. It’s vague enough that it’s not really name-related but people everywhere are using it - often people whose last names are firstinitialmiddleinitiallastname.

I get yearly reservation confirmations from a hotel in Australia that an Australian friend told me is in the middle of nowhere. I get reminders from an auto dealership in Texas that my truck is due for service. A couple days ago I got an email from Costco that I’d won a gift card. I’ve been subscribed to so many random lists.

Recently I got some home-purchase documents meant for someone else. I found that guy and tracked him down on LinkedIn and asked him to stop using my email address but I never heard back from him.

Tangentially, in the mid-90s when I bought my first personal domain the .com version wasn’t available so I acquired the .net one. When friends accidentally emailed me at the .com address its owner, apparently a badger breeder in Australia, would reply with messages offering to sodomize their relatives. Not too long ago I googled him and he’s dead now.
posted by bendy at 9:39 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I’v been thinking recently that our mobile numbers should be our unique identifiers. Ten digits, mostly unique, not as private as social security numbers and something that a vast majority of people have. Still not a perfect solution but much easier to maintain ownership of than an email address and they can lead to a lot less false positives especially if you use MFA wherever you can.
posted by bendy at 9:45 PM on September 8


I’v been thinking recently that our mobile numbers should be our unique identifiers. Ten digits, mostly unique, not as private as social security numbers and something that a vast majority of people have. Still not a perfect solution but much easier to maintain ownership of than an email address and they can lead to a lot less false positives especially if you use MFA wherever you can.

I've noticed a few online businesses are starting to promote the primary use of mobile numbers for registration/login. When you sign up for airbnb, for example, your mobile number is first and email is dead last in the hierarchy.
posted by jeremias at 3:49 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I don't have this problem because my gmail address is an incredibly pretentious word, due to my setting it up in 2005 just on the cusp between Real Name Internet, which I had not embraced, and Fun Handle Internet, which was all I had known so far. But articles like this show up every few years and for some reason I always love hearing about people's email doppelgangers (even though it seems like it's often a drag to deal with). I've always been a fan of journalist Evan Ratliff's version, lost to website shuffles but preserved in the archive, that is nominally about what happened when one of those doppelgangers signed up for Ashley Madison.
posted by babelfish at 4:14 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I’ve been thinking recently that our mobile numbers should be our unique identifiers. Ten digits, mostly unique, not as private as social security numbers and something that a vast majority of people have.

And already heavily targeted by scammers for identity theft purposes.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:37 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I received a private email from Thomas Dolby once. I had actually sent him an email months before to ask him a question about one of his performances (Live Aid with David Bowie) and he never responded. But then one day his name came up in my inbox. Turns out he sent out a mass email to others working on some project and he accidentally included me because my name and the name of the person for whom the email was intended happened to be identical.
posted by drstrangelove at 5:35 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


My gmail address is a dictionary word and I’ve had it since it was invite only. This happens to me often enough that my phone has, “you have the wrong email address” as the suggested text after typing “you ha.” I only write back when it is obviously something personal or sensitive, like someone’s child’s school or their therapist. Everything else just goes straight into the trash, or I unsubscribe and then delete.

The weirdest one was when a dominatrix used the wrong email in a Craigslist ad. There were some sweet-sounding and lost-sounding men who likely would be horrified to know that some random woman received their emails recounting their deepest sexual fantasies…

I stopped trying to track people down to ask them not to use my email address after receiving all kinds of abuse and being accused of “hacking” when I told somebody via text that detailed info about their new phone was being sent to the wrong email address.
posted by gemmy at 5:48 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I’ve been thinking recently that our mobile numbers should be our unique identifiers. Ten digits, mostly unique, not as private as social security numbers and something that a vast majority of people have

I've had too many issues with formatting of mobile numbers to be a fan of this. Companies don't always seem to get the concept of international numbers, or require a really weird format that I'm not actually sure would work. That's aside from the fact that I have changed mobile numbers more often than email addresses. (You can't port numbers between countries, unfortunately.)

I also get random emails for other people, thanks to having firstinitialsurname@gmail and a relatively unusual surname. I'm apparently a parent in NY, a nurse in Illinois, someone in Texas, an Australian and a French person or two. (I'm in Germany) I mostly just ignore them (one main exception being the TX realtor who kept emailing me angrily even after I told him that he had the wrong email address.) The Prayer Alerts to help save America I could skip, though.
posted by scorbet at 5:51 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


The real solution to this problem is minimally competent and responsive customer service.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:52 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


That... that costs money!
posted by trig at 5:55 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


I get these multiple times per week. When the mail is from a human I have a form letter I send back in response, which usually gets disregarded. Often there are attachments with extremely personal information (financial information, social security numbers, discussions of lawsuit strategy, etc.).

The best one was the results of a semen analysis (the results were good, you'll be happy to know). I was surprised to be getting a PDF with private medical results in email but it was from a hospital in Vietnam.
posted by dfan at 6:06 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


Just prior to the shit version of the apocalypse that we are in, my partner and I were buying our first home - after 15 years of renting together. The agent sent us digital contracts to sign, and as I was in a particularly busy period of work (accumulating extra funds for moving, etc) Partner7 digitally signed first and emailed it to me to add my signature to.

For fifteen years together, my email address has been firstname.reasonablyuncommonlastname@provider.com. DomesticPartner7, even now, emails me at this address a couple of times a day even if we are at home together. Yet, my Beloved7 managed to send this critically important confidential document to shortname.reasonablyuncommonlastname@provider.com.

Luckily, the unintended recipient was a very polite (if confused and a little alarmed) Swedish chap, who very politely pointed out the error.

I mean, what do you do with that?
posted by prismatic7 at 6:47 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


That Evan Ratliff piece is great. I never bothered to check the Ashley Madison database because I'm sure that one of my doppelgängers must have signed up (probably Mr. Broken Hard Drive in Ohio). The amount of porn spam I get on my fedward address that I don't get on my real name would most easily be explained by that guy's stubborn consistency in using my address instead of his.

But this, especially:
Earlier this year, my email was for several months part of a hyper-organized but reply-all-happy women’s book group in Georgia. By this point I’d stopped bothering to try and untangle myself from the other Ratliffs’ correspondence. And anyway, I really loved the camaraderie of the club. They seemed such a supportive, more-than-just-books book group. When they planned a weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, I thought about crashing it. What could they say? After all, they’d invited me.
… came weirdly close to my thought process before emailing the wedding invitation people. I've never crashed a wedding before, and they invited me.
posted by fedward at 7:00 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I’v been thinking recently that our mobile numbers should be our unique identifiers

Oh, this is a terrible idea considering how quickly mobile phone providers reuse numbers. You could "new phone who dis?" your way into somebody's bank account, especially if they forgot to turn the alerts off before they switched phone providers.
posted by fedward at 7:04 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


I seem to have unique enough email addresses that I don't have this problem.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:08 AM on September 9


The weirdest one was when a dominatrix used the wrong email in a Craigslist ad.

Way before the internet was thought of, I used to work for a magazine whose offices were in central London. Right next to the entrance, and part of the same building, was a tiny kiosk selling confectionary, cold drinks, cigarettes and so on to passers by. The guy running this kiosk also operated it as a post office box for anyone not wanting to receive questionable mail at home.

One morning I was opening the magazine's morning post when I discovered among all the usual press releases a small bundle of 35mm photographs showing a naked couple engaged in various kinds of sexual activity. The covering letter gave the couple's names - let's call them Bill & Kathy - and made it clear the photos were their contribution to an amateur porn ring, members of which regularly swapped similar shots of themselves via the postal service.

Once the photos had been round the office a couple of times, we added a little note saying "Opened in error. Love to Kathy!", resealed the envelope and returned it to the kiosk downstairs. Presumably, it then made its way onward to the intended recipient, but whether the senders ever found out about its little detour I don't know.
posted by Paul Slade at 7:30 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


I own the domain larkwoods.com and have a catch-all email set up. This domain is one letter different from larkwords.com - the domain of a US literary agency. Approximately twice a week I get emails from aspiring authors, often with the full manuscript of their books attached.

Eye opening, I can tell you. Good manners mean that I've not shared any, but boy, some of them are absolute stinkers.

Perhaps the most impressive is the Australian gentleman who has sent me three (THREE!) different completed novels, despite replying gratefully to each time I tell him he has the wrong address.
posted by offmessage at 8:38 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I've been sent bank details, family reunion invitations, a lot of information about upcoming Boy Scout events, invoices, receipts, the bragging exploits of a teenage boy with my name who signed up for Facebook with my email address, confirmation emails for expensive home renovation work, emails welcoming me to my new cable service including the account password... I'm not kidding when I say I could have cleared out several bank accounts by now if I'd wanted do.

There are at least three other "YoungStencils" out there, each clearly convinced they are the only one in the world. And so many companies willing to send out highly sensitive financial information to unverified email addresses.

The best ones come about because I share my name with someone who has a long association with a very famous musician. So I get a steady stream of demos from people hoping I'll pass them on, or asking if I might be able to help out with tickets, and remember me - we met at NAMM a couple of years ago.

The odd thing is that all these come in waves - as if the other mes are fine with remembering their actual email address for years, and then completely forget when buying a car, or moving house, or when Cousin Kathy is getting married. (Or visiting NAMM).
posted by YoungStencil at 8:41 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


My last name is not Land, never has been, but after I claimed that gmail address I was quite surprised at just how many Janet Lands there are in Britain, and how much shopping they do.

But hey, at least the fax calls have stopped.
posted by JanetLand at 9:24 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I seem to have unique enough email addresses that I don't have this problem.

Me too, and mine is part of my middle name and last name. I feel pretty sad that I don't have an email buddy. I really enjoy shirt buddies- people wearing the same random discount shirt as me and I like gossip, so I think I'm going to change my email to johnsmith or something.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:02 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


offmessage: "…the Australian gentleman who has sent me three (THREE!) different completed novels, despite replying gratefully to each time I tell him he has the wrong address."

I can imagine his e-mail client is auto-completing the wrong address. It's happened to me.
posted by adamrice at 10:42 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


The website howmanyofme.com says there are over 6600 of me in the US alone.

Oh that is an eye-opening website. Apparently there 1,673 people in the US with the same first name as me. I always felt I received an excessive amount of wrongly addressed emails as the owner of FirstName@gmail, but I guess it could be worse, like if all them couldn't remember their email address instead of just a handful (and that one really fancy lady who bought multiple luxury vehicles whose full name is the same as my first name)

Also - Boost Mobile has the worst system for this - there is literally no email address verification and I just send those messages straight to spam now after I initially sent the other "Julnyes" a text message that I was getting their account info, and that didn't stop them coming in.

What I find weird are the emails for people clearly using my email address as a throwaway account - how did they decide on that?
posted by Julnyes at 11:01 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I got my yahoo and gmail email addresses really early on, so got firstnamelastname.

The combo of my first name and last name isn't very common, but there is one guy in the southern USA with the same name as me who keeps using my gmail address when signing up for things. So I know he is a gun nut, very right wing, rabid Trump-supporter, is in the US military, owns a Jeep and a GM Truck, has a pool, etc. I keep marking all that crap as spam but it keeps showing up.

I'm Canadian, and it really annoys me to have my inbox filling up with right-wing American spam.

I get none of that stuff at my yahoo address even though I've had it since 1997.

When I need throw-away contact info I use fake@fake.fa, with the name Fakey McFakerson, and I live at 123 Fake St in Faketown.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:27 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


people clearly using my email address as a throwaway account

I've already apologized to Smarzemblaine Flibble; I guess I owe you one as well...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:28 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


For fake email addresses for throwaway accounts I never intend to use again, I use Ms Totally Realname, with the address admin@[whateversiteitis]. This used to work consistently, but it's failing validation occasionally these days.
posted by Dysk at 11:51 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


puts on almost grandpa hat .... so I once used to have a fax machine with a number that was 1 off from a pharmacy .....
posted by mbo at 12:06 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


For random one-time throwaway addresses, there's still always mailinator (you just enter [whateverusernameyouwant]@mailinator.com and it creates a publicly readable mailbox for that user name that you can then check if you want to. Public means everybody else can check it too, so this is strictly for non-sensitive accounts and information.)

It doesn't always pass validation - some companies have wised up to the fact that mailinator addresses are throwaways, which makes sense considering how long it's been around - but still works pretty often (and is free and spontaneous).
posted by trig at 12:09 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Before email, when I was in the paper phone book with my initials and last name, I got lots of calls from bill collectors, many of whom declined to believe I'm not a man with my initials, and one who was very aggressive and called in the middle of the night and it's actually pretty difficult to prosecute this kind of assholery, or at least it used to be.

I got a nice early gmail account with help from MeFi, my initials and last name. This was a fun thing. Later, I learned a co-worker could have shared, but is an arrogant ass and just didn't.

Now I get occasional emails for doofuses who can't type, and maybe it's in the autofill of their browsers, because some do it routinely. If there was a Whattaburger in Maine, I'd have had free burgers, have gotten resumes, medical info, real estate contracts. I send a brief reply, occasionally get arguments or queries, which I ignore.

Most of the useful usernames are gone, though MSoft starts new mail domains(@hotmail, @live, @msn, @passport and @outlook) from time to time. Might be smart of google and other providers to start some guidelines and suggestions for good userids. This will not be successful, but we will all enjoy arguing about it. On twitter, I went with my initials and area code, because Maine is 207, and we all use it as a sign to other Mainers. So if you got followed, might be me.
posted by theora55 at 12:19 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


mailinator ... creates a publicly readable mailbox for that user name that you can then check if you want to.

I don't know about anybody else, but for me the purpose of using a throwaway address is for it NOT to end up in a mailbox for me to check.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:47 PM on September 9


Metafilter: This will not be successful, but we will all enjoy arguing about it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:52 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


mailinator ... creates a publicly readable mailbox for that user name that you can then check if you want to.
>I don't know about anybody else, but for me the purpose of using a throwaway address is for it NOT to end up in a mailbox for me to check.

You very much don't have to check it! Emails get deleted automatically after "several hours" in any case. But it's good for when you sign up for some random service that insists on sending you a verification code or whatever.
posted by trig at 3:01 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I have snow.mentality at Gmail. (Well, literally, but I also have first.last of my legal name, and here I mean snow.mentality to stand in for that.) Snow is fairly common, but Mentality isn’t — I’ve only ever met two Mentalities that I wasn’t related to.

One day, I got an email from someone I didn’t know, congratulating “me” on “my” pregnancy. “You and [Rain] are going to be such great parents!”

… My husband’s (uncommon) first name is [Rain]. I was incredibly freaked out. I was definitely not pregnant, but I momentarily questioned my own knowledge about that. I gingerly replied to the sender to let her know that she probably got the wrong person.

It turns out that there really, truly is another [Snow Mentality] out there who is married to a man called [Rain]. I eventually found out that she has snow.x.mentality at Gmail (where X stands in for her real middle initial — different from mine, at least). She really was pregnant, and some months later I got a couple of misdirected congratulations on the birth of their child.

No one could ever remember to type the X. So I got to track the growing-up of their child through all the misdirected emails, which I forwarded on. Preschool snack requirements. Soccer team requirements. School announcements. Church youth group announcements. Finally, notification of admissions decision for a fancy prep school.

I haven’t gotten one for a while now. I kind of miss them. In a strange way, these other Mentalities feel like family, and I enjoyed hearing about their lives. I should send her an email to see how they’re doing.
posted by snowmentality at 3:03 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


Email is an awful online ID that we use for almost everything.

One of the many benefits of relying on competent password management software to keep track of my online credentials is that the chance of my ever needing to exercise a lost password recovery process for any of them is negligible, which leaves me completely free to use disposable addresses from Email On Deck for services that absolutely insist that my username needs to be an email address.

I sign up, then "confirm my email address" using the Email On Deck webmail interface, then never again have to be pestered either by them or by anybody they leak their credentials database to; and yet I can sign in whenever I like. It's nice.
posted by flabdablet at 7:13 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


I got a nice early gmail which is the same as my metafilter username. I had used andraste as my handle for just about everything since the mid-90s; Andraste was a goddess worshipped by the Iceni and I thought was obscure enough that only a few other people would ever use it. That was before the Dragon Age franchise was launched with Andraste as the primary deity in game mythology...

Now there are twenty zillion people using andraste(number) at gmail and occasionally forgetting to include the number. I've had licence plate renewals from Tennessee, BestBuy vouchers from Florida, lots of family-and-friends emails for someone in Canada, and emails in German which I gather were something to do with a school in France. Most recently I've been getting emails from HBO Nordic and something which I gather is an Uber-like thing in Norway; the person's first name is Andreas and I believe they're leaving the E out.

How I react depends on what the email is. If it's a friend or family member sending a personal email, I usually email them back and nicely let them know they have the wrong address. If it's a corporate I just unsubscribe or close the account, because while I can tolerate people getting someone else's email address wrong, they should bloody well get their OWN address right, and therefore if they fuck it up and don't double-check, that's on them. Occasionally I've even taken the account over - I did that with Steam, as they couldn't verify their account and I couldn't sign up with an email already used for a Steam account.
posted by andraste at 8:59 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I mean - DNS is a good first step to solving this. Having everyone on Gmail as a messaging services creates a lot of name collisions without a proper namespace. The article says there are 1.5 billion accounts as of 2018. Name collisions have to be incredibly common.

I used Gmail for a few years before I wised up and switched back to a custom domain. It's much nicer and I don't get the spam attacks that target Gmail users specifically.

People do eMail my aunt on Gmail thinking its me. I'm lucky enough to have a memorable last name (also my handle here). So people find me at https://schmud.de and they think they can find me at schmudde@gmail.com. But it's not true.
posted by schmudde at 8:38 AM on September 10


I was quick into Gmail too, so I got first.last@gmail.com. My first name isn't rare (it cracked the top 100 the year I was born), so I do get misdirected mail regularly. (I've also gotten into the arguments with people about the presence or absence of the dot, and it's a bit frustrating for both of us.)

I have a Chinese diaspora last name, and it's neat receiving misdirected mail from all over the world: Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, England, and of course the USA. Usually a gentle "you have the wrong email address, I live in Canada" sorts them out.

I've done a few double takes:
  • There is another woman who lives in my local area who has the same name. I think we've name collided twice. The first time, I received a message from a local caterer. I saw a familiar area code and briefly wondered if I had accidentally planned a party. The second time was a confirmation email for a medical appointment, which got cancelled (and hopefully re-booked under the correct email address!) the following week.
  • There is a woman in France who I share a name with, as well. I usually receive misdirected email in English or Chinese, so when I groggily woke up one morning to emails from a French social worker ("can you please confirm you're receiving these emails, I am worried about the address") I wondered why they were chasing me long after I had left the country.
posted by invokeuse at 10:04 AM on September 10


Howmanyofme says there are about 48 people with both my first and last name in the US. I could not get some medical facility in Alabama to quit emailing my firstlast@gmail account about someone else's appointments. When they repeatedly asked me to fill out a satisfaction survey about her experiences, I finally filled it out with all zeros and explained the situation in the text fields. I felt a little bad about possibly screwing up their numbers, but it worked: they quit emailing me after that. And the zeros did truly reflect the satisfactoryness of my interactions with them up until then.

I also got notified about that same person's tattoo appointments, including a mock-up of what her new tattoo was going to look like. It wasn't too bad.

I was glad I was able to get the teacher who was emailing me about someone else's child's problems to correct the address she was using. That seemed important. That parent needed to receive those emails. She was nice about it.
posted by metonym at 2:05 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I was also quick into Gmail, but having chosen the same idiotic, meaningless, totally-made-up noise for a Gmail handle as I use consistently for all my public Internet activity, the only mail I've ever had that wasn't specifically for me has been spam. And that's across Yahoo, Gmail and now Fastmail email addresses with the same user part.

Idiotic, meaningless, totally-made-up noises ftw!
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Idiotic, meaningless totally-made-up noises

Hey, that's pretty much my entire shtick here on Metafilter...
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:06 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Poweee fertanggggg
posted by flabdablet at 7:34 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Preach the rungblivwoot, bro!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:47 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I already told my story. But this thread made me realize that *all* of the mistaken emails have stopped, even the interesting ones. I'm kind of disappointed — come back, fun email mistakes!
posted by Tehhund at 10:19 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Amusingly, I just got yet another password reset attempt for the Facebook account I cleaned out and locked down. Still going after 7 years!
posted by tavella at 11:48 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


In the early 90s I got an email from a guy who was building a website dedicated to everyone he could find with the same first and last name as his wife and I. He was asking if he could write a blurb about me and link to my personal blog.
posted by bendy at 8:33 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Ask and you shall receive: I just got a misdirected email entirely in German! My last name is common in Germany and my first name is the same in German and English, so this happens sometimes with my firstname.lastname@gmail.com address. Looks like this is the 5th time this person has mistakenly emailed me. Back in 2009 I replied in mangled German but I'm even further out of practice now so I think I'll reply in English (unless a MeFite wants to help me say "you have the wrong email address" in German).
posted by Tehhund at 6:40 AM on September 16


I wonder if more people will start using both their parents names, hyphenated, due to the cluttered email and social namespace; which could depoliticize that choice.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:39 AM on September 16


Since this thread is still open: someone just reserved over $1000 of snorkeling at an all-inclusive in Mexico with my email, I hope they manage to get it! Normally I ignore no-reply emails but this is a lot of cash for someone. Except there is literally no identifying information I can find besides the email address on these receipts, I couldn't even (quickly) figure out a way to email the hotel.
posted by advil at 9:13 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


😡 Mr 76, who I previously shamed into using the correct email address, just emailed a note to himself but left off the 76 in his email so it came to me. I guess this thread put some vibes out to the universe and those vibes reached him. I said that I missed these mistaken emails but I meant the fun ones, not this guy.
posted by Tehhund at 8:09 AM on September 21


As another person with a Sara-based gmail account: I sympathize. I've gotten to know the other Sara a bit too well, based on the stuff she signs up for.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:04 AM on September 21


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