What do the Utah First Credit Union, US Weightwatchers, a school in Washington State, an alarm system for elderly people, Bell Canada Telecom, and the Danish Pipe Shop all have in common? They have all sent e-mails to me, believing them to be addressed to one of their customers.
I always thought I was fortunate to have started using Gmail in 2004. Back then, the service was still on trial, and accounts were only available if you were invited by someone who already had an account, with each user allowed to send just 10 invitations. As an early adopter, I was able to secure a short address, a form of my name, without the need to add a number or anything else to it.
Nearly 10 years later, it is virtually impossible to choose such a short address. However, a brief online moniker appears to be a double-edged sword. People with similar names to mine, who may live anywhere in the world, are forced to choose a longer address when they sign up for Gmail. Most probably they add a number to the end, or include a middle initial. Unfortunately, when they use the address to sign up for something online, it seems it is all too easy for them to forget that they couldn’t have the short address they wanted, and so they mistakenly use mine. I then receive information about their order or a new service they have signed up to, often including personal details such as a postal address. When this has happened, I have always attempted to contact the company concerned to let them know, but either it is not possible to find an e-mail address that is read by a human, or else they seemingly just ignore my messages.
Someone called Joan Rawle received an e-mail from the Utah First Credit Union wanting to speak to her urgently about her account. She also signed up with Weightwatchers at some point. The bank failed to respond when I contacted them, while Weightwatchers said they were sorry I no longer wanted to receive their newsletters (addressing me as Jonathan and apparently without reading my reason for cancelling). Then someone called Judy Rawle in Texas ordered a LifeStation Personal Emergency Response System using my address, and so I received a welcome message and also a UPS tracking number.
A slightly different misdirected e-mail was from a teacher called Carol Stumpf at the Sumner School District in Washington. She was writing to parents about her class’s activities, and the message said it was about a pupil called Jacob Hill. She did write and apologise, but said she’d have to speak to the student and his parents before removing my address. I later received an e-mail from another teacher, Mr Baker, about the same boy, but since then it has gone quiet.
More recently, I have received numerous messages from Bell Canada about a cable TV and internet package I have ordered, or at least someone called John Rawle in Etobicoke, Ontario has ordered. These included information about the date of the installation. If they rely on e-mail to let people know the details, John may not have been at home when the engineer called. I have tried to stop these messages, but I can’t find a way to contact them by e-mail as a non-customer. Last night I received a request for feedback about my recent telephone call to customer services, so I filled in the questionnaire with the worst scores possible, and a comment explaining why. Perhaps John phoned them to complain about missing the installation.
Then from the sublime to the ridiculous. Someone else called John Rawle, but this time living in Alicante, Spain, placed an order with the Danish Pipe Shop. This is not the sort of establishment with which I would wish to do business, and they have so far not responded to my requests to have my address removed.
These are only some recent examples of the communications I have incorrectly received. There have been others in the past, such as website subscriptions and even details of a summer camp.
It has to be said that using someone else’s e-mail address by mistake is quite dangerous. I have details of people’s names and home addresses, and in many cases a means of taking over online accounts for the services if they rely on e-mail for password resets. If I were dishonest, I could cancel their orders, or sign them up for expensive extras. However, I would settle simply for letting the people concerned know that they have got their e-mail address wrong, and asking them to be more careful in future. I have tried Googling all of these people, but in most cases without success, and in no instance have I found their correct e-mail addresses. However, I do have most of their home addresses. I think I may try sending postcards. If I ever receive any replies I’ll post details here. Perhaps receiving a postcard from a stranger out of the blue will make them realise the importance of checking their e-mail address when signing up for things to prevent personal details falling into the wrong hands. After all, had they used the address of someone less honest than me, they could be unexpectedly receiving far more than a postcard!