What do you do with emails that are not intended for you?

Guest post by Jackie
DON’T email me. (Photo by: David GoehringCC BY 2.0)
I have a name that’s not common in my generation, but is common in older generations. When I signed up for email, I chose the simplest form of my name. Now that the other 50 or so people in the US who have my name are also using email, I am having problems with receiving their personal emails.

The emails from someone’s husband stopped after I replied to him several times. Now that stores ask you if you would like your receipt emailed to you, I am having a new round of problems. Part of me thinks “Learn your own email address, dammit.” And the other part of me thinks “Well, what if she really needs this receipt?”

It’s always a repeated case of someone giving out the wrong email address, but I don’t actually know what their correct email address is. Am I obligated to do anything here? How do you handle emails not intended for you?
-justanothersciencenerd

The wrong email problem happens to me a lot, ever since I realized my school emails were going to expire and grabbed jackie[mylastname]@gmail.com as a grown-up, non-work-affiliated email address. While my last name is pretty uncommon, there is a Jacki [Mylastname] who I’ve gathered is a lawyer in New York — and many, many people mess up her email (I actually figured out what it was because someone had even typed it out properly farther down the email thread!). I soon discovered that getting emails intended for someone else is kind of like getting a wrong number… except that the sender has no idea, they may have already sent you sensitive information, and they’ll likely do it again unless you say something.

I have a standard response I use in that scenario:

Hi,

Unfortunately it looks like you have the wrong email address (I live out in California). I believe the one you’re looking for is jacki[mylastname]@gmail.com (note that there is no ‘e’ in Jacki). I recommend that you go into your contacts list and make sure to update it so your email program doesn’t autofill the wrong one in the future.

Jackie

Most email clients allow you to save canned responses to use at whim, so you can insert whatever standard text you like and then tweak as necessary. Most everyone I sent it to has responded back with an apology and a thank you. One time I did have a woman slip up after I had already responded, so I told her again and ignored any further messages with a clear conscience (and eventually the emails stopped).

I don’t think the problem will ever quite go away, but making it as painless as possible to deal with has worked well for me. One day I may even have the ovaries to email Jacki herself and tell her to make extra sure people can spell her name right, but for now I’ll just deal with the occasional message that floats my way. Your mileage may vary based on how popular your name is, so it’s totally your judgment call if what you get warrants a response.

Homies that are constantly intercepting personal emails: what’s the new-era solution for getting someone else’s virtual mail?

Comments on What do you do with emails that are not intended for you?

  1. I send a reply and then filter it so that all subsequent emails from that address skip my inbox. Because I ain’t got time to be doing that more than once per person (seriously this happens to me like every other week… my last name is very common).

    I also actually take over any account set up with my address as quickly as possible, and change the password. On the one hand, I can thus stop getting email updates from whatever service; on the other, it prevents them from adding a bunch of personal information to it that I shouldn’t really be privy to.

  2. ALSO: Once, I actually figured out the correct address for an email sent to me, and forwarded the message along, asking politely for the other person to let their friends know what their actual address was. And they asked me to just keep forwarding emails along, as if I was their personal assistant. First of all, I get emails for way too many people to figure out which should be going to one person versus another. Second of all, NOPE. WTF?

  3. I work as an attorney, and this is common enough with law offices that our ethical rules have very exact responses to these sorts of problems.
    First, you are to “return” the e-mail to the sender if possible, and notify them that you received it in error. Once you realize you got the e-mail in error, you’re supposed to stop reading it, so you don’t over-inform yourself on something confidential (but you’re always treated as if you read the whole thing).
    The really sucky part is that a mixup like that can completely ruin someone’s court case, because that information is no longer considered confidential. Ultimately, if an attorney is very careless about sending information to the wrong people, or the item was something really sensitive, they could get reprimanded or disbarred.

  4. I actually have the OPPOSITE of this problem. My first and last name are very common, but use slightly less common spellings. The woman who has my e-mail address, just with RachEl not AEl, gets my e-mails all the time, and I feel really bad about it. Every single time I give someone my e-mail address, I specifically spell it out in an effort to avoid this problem….and then it happens again. It has happened even when I SEND AN E-MAIL to that person or when I have written or typed my e-mail out specifically for them. I even had a woman send an e-mail, intended for me, to the OTHER Rachel that was like “Wait, so your name is spelled Rachael but your e-mail is Rachel?” ….No.
    I guess people just don’t read when they think they know the name already? It’s super frustrating. I’ve had really important e-mails sent to the other Rachel; I’m lucky she’s kind enough to continue forwarding the important ones. I’ve thought about switching my e-mail address to my initials or something, but they all seem to be taken, and I need my address to stay professional. 😛 It’s a problem.

  5. There is a woman who is doing this to me also! In the past three years I have received:

    — notes from her children’s teachers
    — reminders for dentist appointments
    — reminders for car maintenance
    — her “family birthday list” containing the phone numbers, addresses, full names and birthdays of all her family members
    — emails about health insurance from her ex husband
    — emails from a banker negotiating the short sale of her house with her ex husband
    — receipt for romantic weekend with her new husband
    — invitation to spend the holidays with her family (i was tempted to show up if I actually lived within a few hundred miles…)

    Basically I have enough material to write a book about her at this point.

  6. This happens to my husband almost daily; he has a fairly common name, and has been getting emails from companies and services on behalf of someone who apparently doesn’t know their own email address. He gets everything from hotel reservations to Playstation account notifications, even some financial service info and tax-related emails. Unfortunately, even the most benign of these providers don’t make contact easy, so my husband’s response is to just unsubscribe from or cancel the account or service when he can. We know that has led to this other Ryan (our last name) showing up to a flight with no reservation, having his XBox account cancelled, and even having a phone account suspended, but we have no way to contact the other guy, and he seems not to have caught on! It feels cruel, but it’s the only way we’ve found to staunch the flow of misplaced emails.

  7. I have this EXACT problem, specifically with a woman who appears to live in Dallas. I’ve received personal emails, receipts, signups for newsletters that are in her area, her new gym membership and even BANK STATEMENTS!

    What’s worse is when I called the bank to say “Hey this isn’t her email address please remove it” they refused to take it off because I couldn’t verify her personal information (like social security number) and said it was against their policy to change account information without verification. I said, “I’m not asking you to change it to something, I simply want you to remove my email so you stop sending a total stranger this woman’s bank information.” I had to escalate the issue before they would stop sending me her banking stuff. Apparently no one told her though cause she continues to use my email as hers

  8. So the timing on this is funny. This morning I received a third email from my similar email lady’s husband that was adressed to BOTH of us. Part of me is relieved he notices that there is a problem, and part of me is annoyed that he can’t bother to fix it. But since it has become a trend to email both firstlast and first.last, I am assured that she will still receive her emails, and I can block his email address with a clear conscience.

    On the other side of this, my mother would claim she emailed me something and would be annoyed that I hadn’t responded. After asking my brother to forward me a recent email, I figured out that she was emailing my defunct undergraduate email. When she switched to a new email client, her address book was organized differently, and old email adresses started showing up again.

    • Ugh, my mom has the same problem sending me e-mails. I’m pretty sure her e-mail address book looks like this: [high school gibberish account], [undergrad.edu], [gradschool.edu], [[email protected]], [[email protected]] and she sends emails to ALL FIVE – even professional work stuff. It’s embarrassing. Shouldn’t her Blackberry be able to figure this out?

  9. My address is [myfirstname1]@whatever, and I get lots of e-mails for [myfirstnamel]@ whatever. I usually write back and tell the sender that they have the wrong person, with varying results. I once got a reply that said, “no, you know me, you took my prenatal yoga class!” I assured her that I would have noticed if I’d ever had kids, and that I really was the wrong person. (I’ve also received birthday greetings from her dentist, presumably for those same kids.)

    After 7 or 8 years at our current address, we started getting mail for the former owners, from a Native American band council down in the USA, and they were obviously cheques. After returning at least half a dozen with “moved – address unknown” marked on them, I finally tracked down a phone number and called. They stopped eventually.

    • I love when people argue with you like “No, I sent this to the right person.”

      I had one guy sending me family photos and when I replied saying “Sorry, wrong email address” he then explained who he was and and how he knew me. When I said “I’m sorry you have the wrong person, I don’t know you or the people in these photos.” He kept insisting that he had it right. I ended up responding “I’ve explained to you that you have the wrong person and the wrong email address. You can figure out the right email address and send these photos to the correct person, or you can continue to send them to me and I will block your address.” He finally stopped after that

      • Someone did this to me after emailling me personal details about someone “mutual friend’s” mental health. I said she’d sent it to the wrong person, she replied, “Oh, I thought you’d want to know?” I had to tell her I had never heard of any of the people mentionned in the email, I think she eventually believed me!

  10. My email address is kathleen.(surname), and right after I had a hacking attempt on my paypal linked to the address I had someone set up an email account (kathyj(surname)) and link it to mine. I was pretty suss and sent a ‘why have you done this, I’ve just had someone try to hack an account of mine and this looks super dodgy’ email. I got back an email from an apparently older woman from America (I’m Australian) saying that she used my email address as ‘it was her name’. Right. So I sent her an email giving her a breakdown of how to unlink the accounts as it would not let me do so. I got back an abusive email from someone stating that they were her daughter. After 2 weeks of back and forth, with this crazy person becoming increasingly more abusive and yet not doing anything to fix the problem I caved and hacked into the account, changing the password and then updating the secret question to “I told you to fix it, you should have listened. Now get a new email address and leave me alone.” Never heard from them again.

  11. I had a similar thing happen to me – but rather than getting emails intended for the “other me”, I got stuck in a tug of war over an account that was rightfully mine.

    my first sign of an issue was getting the typical “you have requested a password change” message when I had done no such thing. I ignored the first few, then contacted the help center for the website to let them know that someone was trying to access my account. no response. they continued to come in, but I figured it’s no big deal, the person clearly isn’t going to ge the password reset emails and therefore won’t gain access to my info.

    WRONG. one day, I tried to access the account in question only to find my password didn’t work. I requested, received, and activated a password reset and gained access only to find that someone else’s information was living on my account. Full name, address, phone, and full credit card information. I considered for just a split second how fun it would be to buy myself some stuff, then instead changed everything on the account – completely different email (zero similar characters), new password, new security questions, my name and personal info.

    years later, after I had let the account go dormant, I tried to regain access only to find I had been locked out. this time I called customer support, and was told that the account had been frozen due to a disputed charge to “my” card. I have never in my life requested a chargeback or dispute. the only thing that could have happened is that the “other me” really wanted into that account and placed the chargeback.

    here is what freaked me out: why would that person have ever been able to take any actions on my account? the only information she and I ever shared was the first syllable of our first names and clearly some element of an email address. needless to say, I have retired my version of that email alias and go by one that is unique to me and me alone.

    I never did figure out what her actual email address was, but had I been able to do so I would have sent her an email just to make her stop trying to steal my stuffs.

    • What on earth goes through peoples heads?! I WANTS THE EMAIL ADDRESS PRECIOUS crazy. It’s not your email address ya weirdo! Get your own!

  12. I thought I was the only one with this problem! There’s another person out there with my name who is never going to know when her doctor appointments are because I get all her reminders!

    Also, as a kid, we were given a phone number that had belonged to a bank. My mom changed our voicemail to “this is not soandso bank, but if you’d like to make a deposit, leave your number and we will definitely call you back.”

  13. I’ve started getting misdirected account sign up emails from kids’ websites, where the kid has to enter a parent’s email to sign up for their account. I feel kind of bad about shutting down all her accounts, but I wish she would figure out that my email is not her parent’s!

  14. I have recently been getting a slew of application and interview emails for jobs I have not been applying to, from a state I do not even live in. From my understanding nowadays if you register for an email addres ([email protected]) I also own similar address ([email protected] and so on). So even though it may not be my exact address I still receive these emails. A friend was concerned that my account got hacked but I believe it is just a mistake on the senders part.

    I just politely alert the interviewer that they have the wrong address and wish them luck in reaching their candidate. I would love to make them stop coming all together but I’m not sure how to go about preventing my “email” from applying to jobs.

  15. There is a successful creative person with the same first and last name as me (otherwise both are not so common) but I spell my name with a J and she with a G. When I first got a work related email meant for her, I googled my name, and her professional website came up as well as results related to me. I figured out what her email must be. If it’s a work related email, I forward it to her and if it’s a receipt I reply to sender to update their records.

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