Help! I Keep Getting Emails Meant For Someone Else

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Mistaken identity is a lot more common than you'd think, particularly in the online space, but it can be frustrating and confusing when it happens. If you're getting emails meant for someone else, don't panic. There's steps you can take to make your life easier.

This is a situation I’m all too familiar with. I have fairly common name (thanks for ruining my Google rankings, baseball guy) and a close-to-that-name email address (thanks for stealing my name, the David Murphy who beat me to the punch in Gmail). Consequently, I’m sometimes getting others’ emails that weren’t meant for me, and my doppelgänger sometimes gets my email that wasn’t meant for him.

Lifehacker reader Michael has a similar issue:

“After reading your article about postal mail addressed to someone else I wanted to ask your advice on my problem.

I keep getting email for people who have given out my address as theirs.

Either it’s a typo, or the don’t have an email address and mine is the first one that pops into their head. It’s a common nickname where I’m from.

Sometimes it’s funny, like the time a concert promoter contacted me with an offer of a gig. Sometimes it’s serious, like the real estate agent that emailed a time sensitive rental agreement. Mainly it’s annoying like the fast food addict that signed me up for a delivery service... in another city.

If I’m feeling generous I’ll reply and inform them that this is the wrong email. Other times they are marked spam. With the delivery service I changed the password and then closed the account.

But what’s the best way to handle this?”

Honestly, there’s not much you can do to prevent others from signing up for services using your email address — mistaken or otherwise. If you get into the practice of whitelisting senders, something you could easily do with various apps or crazy filters, there’s a chance you might miss out on an email you want to receive from someone (or some company) that’s never bothered you before.

If there’s some common aspect to these mistaken-identity emails — maybe someone is using a variant of your name in the introduction, for example, you could filter messages containing that text to a separate folder that isn’t your inbox.

Otherwise, I can’t think of a great way to prevent these kinds of emails from reaching your inbox. Some kind of “jump through this extra hoop to prove you really meant to message me” setup doesn’t really apply in this case, since you’re not being spammed per se. It’s a simple case of mistaken identity, one that’s (annoyingly) happening to you more than most people.

Perhaps Gmail is to blame

If you’re getting these missent messages on Gmail — you didn’t specify — it’s possible that someone is getting mixed up with the various symbols Gmail ignores in email addresses, like a period. In this case, sending a message to [email protected] or [email protected] would go to the exact same Gmail account, even though those are two “different” addresses on paper.

If this is the case, you can set up filters to catch and trash messages sent to the incorrect address, ensuring that you never have to deal with anything sent to [email protected] if the address you actually use is [email protected]

Automate your “this isn’t me” responses

At the very least, you could use a keyboard macro utility like AutoHotkey when you’re checking your email. Press a few buttons on your keyboard, and you can paste in a pre-generated message informing the sender that they’ve contacted the wrong person. That’ll save you some time when you’re replying to incorrectly targeted emails.

Unsubscribe, report, or filter

Beyond that, if a sender is getting annoying, you can unsubscribe from their messages (if applicable) via a link in the email itself. You could also report them as junk or spam — and if you’re on a service like Gmail, the “report spam” feature might prompt you to unsubscribe as part of that.

If worse comes to worst, you could filter the sender so everything they send goes to your trash, but your issue sounds more like a one-off problem from multiple senders than one sender filling up your inbox with messages meant for someone else.

No matter what, make sure you’re staying on top of this issue, as you’ll want to act quickly if someone signs up for a fairly popular service, like Facebook, Uber, or whatnot, with your email address. It’ll be annoying to have to contact the company to correct this issue, but better to do that than have someone masquerading as you. (You can also probably just perform a password reset on the service itself, since you hold access to the email address, and take over the account yourself.)

The delete key is your friend

Anyway, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Were I you, I would either reply to those emails to correct the mistake (if you’re feeling nice), or just ignore/delete them. This kind of thing happens. If these incorrect emails get to be too much, and there’s a good method you can use to filter a few of them out of sight and out of mind, it’s worth investigating.

No matter what you do, don’t change your email address. Don’t give up an inch.


Comments

    An interesting wrinkle that was similar to this problem was that my partner has a hotmail address that she uses as her primary address, but someone somehow managed to use that address to sign up for a google+ profile.

    From that point onwards, any time my partner used her hotmail to email people who were using gmail, Google would 'helpfully' refer to my partner as this random engineer dude with a goofy profile pic.

    It resulted in a lot of folks thinking that she was not the person she is, or that they had sent email to the wrong person in error.

    Google and Microsoft were equally unhelpful in getting the identities associated with each other. In the end, the only way I could see forward was to work with my partner to log in to the Google+ profile by using her hotmail address as a recovery address, then changing the login details to hop in and associate the profile with a different email address that DIDN'T belong to my partner.

    Identify theft? Unauthorized access? Hard to say. If you set your profile with a recovery email that belongs to someone else and associate your identity with that email, is it actually unauthorized access if the owner of that email uses it?

    I found out that the person who had managed to do this had only ever used that profile once in their entire life, to leave a youtube comment. I nuked the fucking thing from orbit and my partner got her identity back.

    I get this all too often as well. I really wish more services verified addresses fist! I love the "click here if this isn't you" type links.

    When they get too much I end up doing a password recovery and either closing the account or changing the email address to one I generate on a temporary email address (like 10 minute email).

    I have a domain, and am constantly getting this issue where either people enter the wrong address, or companies (mainly US companies) enter the email incorrectly. Typically I will try to find an unsubscribe link in the email, and/or block that recipient in cPanel with my hosting provider.

    Of course all this could be solved if, before sending information/account related emails, that laws required senders to verify email addresses. Just a quick email asking you to click a link to confirm your email address, and if the link isn't clicked, then no emails get sent to that address. Click the link and verify the address, and get whatever emails you subscribed for.

    Until opt-in and email verification becomes more common, this problem will just keep happening for some people with simple email address or domain names.

    I’ve received credit card details, along with boarding pass and copy of passport from a wife who has a husband who shares the same name as me. Also get mortgage papers, application and salary information. More recently received coaches playbook from a popular club, marked sensitive and not to be emailed!

    I usually politely respond and let them know I’ve received it in error and that I’ve deleted everything. Also letting them know because they have the same name as me they must be somewhat awesome too and that they’d do the same for me

    Most of these emails originate from all over the world, the flight details were from London, so I couldn’t catch the flight being on the other side of the world. :D

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