Check Your Email Addresses for Crying Out Loud!

Dear people of the internet, please help yourself out by verifying that the email address you sprinkle to every web site, sweepstakes form, shopping cart, government entity and social network is actually an address that belongs to you. I’ll even tell you how to do this, just follow these simple, basic steps:

  1. Open your email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, Mail) or web mail site (Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, etc.)
  2. Create a new email message.
  3. In the “To:” field, type in the email address you give out to everyone online.
  4. In the “Subject:” field, type “This is just a test”.
  5. In the body of the email, put in a trivial bit of text that only you should know.  It could be something simple like “I have three cats” or “I really like chocolate bacon.”  It doesn’t matter what it says, it just has to be unique to you.
  6. Hit the “Send” button.
  7. Wait a few minutes.
  8. If you receive the email you just sent without any error messages and it looks exactly like what you typed in above, congratulations! You win at using the internet. The rest of this article is not for you.
  9. If you didn’t get a response back, wait another few hours. If you still didn’t get the message, you need to read on…
Generally speaking, I am a nice person to be around (or so some people have toldme). I try to help people out when I can and offer suggestions when people get stuck or need some assistance. This is a courtesy I often extend to people I encounter on the internet as well, but to be fair, I don’t know for certain that these so-called internet people are actually real.

Over the past year I have started getting an increasing and alarming amount of personal and private emails delivered to my Gmail address. Normally, when I see an email that clearly has nothing to do with me I delete it or mark it as spam and be on my way. But during the past 12 months some of these internet people have really been pushing the boundaries of what I would consider safe or secure information to share online.

In at least three separate occasions that I can recall, I was so worried about the outcome of these internet people not getting these private emails that I directly intervened by calling the sender (using that old school voice telephone technology) and letting them know that they most certainly did not reach their intended receiver.  In each of these cases the sender was shocked that I wasn’t the internet person in question and then asked me to verify that I was who I said I was.  After the disbelief sunk in, they asked me, sheepishly in many cases, to please delete the messages and disregard any further emails sent from their address.  But this isn’t the sad bit of this story.

The really terrible thing is that these internet people just keep using my email address as their own, and on some pretty important forms and sites.  A small sampling of these repeat offenders are:
  • A notice from your landlord that your rent check bounced and that eviction is imminent
  • An official letter from your university that you have been put on academic suspension and have been asked not to return
  • Multiple emails attempting to confirm your financial records for a car and home loan from your bank
  • Appointment emails setting up and moving the times and places for your job interviews
  • Forms you must fill out to qualify for your state’s unemployment benefits
  • Confirmation emails for hundreds of dollars of computer equipment to be shipped overseas
  • Notices from your auto insurance and health insurance companies letting you know that your coverage has been dropped, the cost raised, or your claims were denied
  • Discrete FedEx tracking emails to let you know that your vibrator shipment is delayed
This doesn’t include the dozens of friend and family emails attempting to find out where you’ve been for the past month, why you won’t return their calls, why you were so drunk at that party last weekend and to let you know that your grandfather just died.  You would think that somewhere these internet people would wonder “hey, where did all of my friends, family, job, healthcare, insurance and banking emails go?”  But you would be wrong.

So consider this my plea to you, humble internet visitor: check your email addresses and make darn sure that the ones you are handing out actually belong to you.  Because I’d hate to be the one to tell you that your trip to Florida was cancelled after you spent all that money booking hotels and plane tickets, just because you didn’t get your confirmation numbers.

Your helpful internet do-gooder,

MS