I subscribed to Apple’s MobileMe service, so I received an email address with my full name @me.com. When the service switched to iCloud, I also received the @icloud.com suffix.
My problem is that someone with the same name, based in America, is using my @icloud.com address to sign up for accounts and services, including Instagram. For example, I know that he has purchased a case for his iPhone 4, is interested in a new Ford pickup truck, and has signed his child up for a Scholastic education account.
When he signs up for fresh accounts, I get verification emails that I regularly have to decline. In some instances, it seems he has changed his email address in accounts he already holds, and doesn’t need to verify them with my email.
I have tried contacting the individual but to no avail.
It’s slightly concerning that he’s constantly typing in the wrong email and potentially sharing information with me. Dylan
I get this as well. A surprising number of people don’t seem to be able to remember their email addresses. This is a growing problem because of the use of real names. We used to think this was a great idea, overlooking the fact that there are often hundreds and sometimes thousands of people with the same name, and now they’re all coming online. We might have been better off using fabricated but memorable names.
Go into lockdown
First, make absolutely sure that you have total control of your own accounts. Change the passwords to something stronger, change your answers to security questions, and think about adding two-factor authentication. This usually means associating your email account with a mobile phone number. If someone asks for a password reset, the email service will text you a numerical code to type in.
Bear in mind that people who really believe they own a particular address may try to access to it, assume they have forgotten the password, and try to gain access by getting your password reset.
You could even contact your email provider, complain that somebody else is using your email address, and say that you are worried about your account being compromised. They’re very unlikely to do anything, but if something goes wrong, at least you can prove you forewarned them.
Apple has a help page about what to do “If you think your Apple ID has been compromised”.
If someone uses your email address to open a Facebook account, there’s a form for that.
If you’re just getting unwanted newsletters or promotional emails, reputable companies will always offer a simple way to unsubscribe.
Complain to senders
Second, when you get notifications, contact the website involved and ask them to block your email address and remove it from the account. In my experience, most of these emails come from no-reply addresses, so you have to do this via a web form. Well run companies will email you a copy of your complaint. Some are not well run, so copy and paste your complaint into a note, or take a screen grab.
Companies vary. My best ever response came from Gumtree Australia (“Your ad ‘GoPro Hero 3 Black Version’ was successfully confirmed”), which acted immediately. The worst was Vodafone UK, where the saga started in April 2010 (a “Welcome to Vodafone Online Services” email complete with “my” new phone number). This escalated via webmail help to customer services and then the Vodafone Directors Office before finally being resolved in May 2011. I’m sure they’ve improved since then….
Bear in mind that someone signing up to things with your email address could be construed as impersonation, identity theft or even attempted fraud, depending on the action and whichever legal jurisdiction applies. (In the US, it varies by state.) The vast majority of cases are simple mistakes, much like dialling a wrong number. But if anything looks suspicious, consider reporting it or even taking legal advice.
In the UK, the City of London Police’s Action Fraud is “the national policing lead for fraud”. It has a website where you can report fraud and cyber crime, including spam emails.
Contact your namesake
Third, try to notify the person, or get someone else to do it for you. I’ve had a lot of success when I’ve received personal and group emails. With luck, a “reply all” lets you to tell several of the person’s friends and family members at once. Say something like “Please ask name to tell you their correct email address because they keep using mine by mistake”. Your name-sake will probably find this sufficiently embarrassing to prompt corrective action.
In some cases, you can collect enough information to find the person on Facebook or via a Google search, and sometimes you can get their phone number. Again, either a direct SMS text or some polite email messages to your name-sake’s friends and family could be enough to solve the problem.
Fourth, there’s the nuclear option, which involves doing things that might look illegal in some jurisdictions. If you have tried notifying the website or service, your name-sake, and your name-sake’s friends and family, the last resort is to try to take control of the account. I’ve never done this myself, and I don’t recommend it, but I know it happens.
I strongly recommend against doing this with serious services, which includes anything of a financial nature – banking, insurance etc. (Obviously, one would expect that kind of organization to take prompt action when asked.) However, getting large amounts of email from a trivial service might tempt me….
Anyway, you have the email address – in fact, you own it – so you can try asking for a password reset. This will give you access to your namesake’s account. You can now log on and change the email address to one that isn’t yours, such as the company’s customer service email address. Your noble motive is, of course, to protect your name-sake’s privacy by stopping the company from sending you information about their personal transactions.
Finally, if all else fails, you can try to set up a filter than will redirect the unwanted emails to your spam box or trash. This will be tricky unless there’s some variation in the name or the email address. At worst, you can just keep adding website addresses to the filter, as long as they’re not websites you use yourself.
I appreciate that many people will simply delete wrongly addressed emails, without trying to stop them. Unfortunately, that means the intended recipient isn’t getting email they want, and it doesn’t encourage websites and services to improve their procedures.
Far too many websites still allow people to set up accounts without getting them verified via confirmation emails or texts etc. They’ll only change if we make enough fuss – and thereby increase their support costs – to the point where they see the light.
Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com