E-mail addresses and how not to use them

Let me explain... No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Naw, I'll stick to explaining.

So I have an email address that I don't technically use anymore (o'kay a lot of them) but that is still tied to things that I do use. This address is hosted through Gmail and the username is my old name. What's my old name you ask? Not important. I know, my parents were weird. That's not what this is about, though.

Somewhere around the late 00s, I started getting emails that seemed to be from real people and intended for a real person, just not me. A bunch of elementary school newsletters, court documents, home sale documents, bank statements, and divorce papers. I finally manage to figure out the actual email address of the person these things were meant for. Reaching out to them to let them know I've been receiving all of these things did mostly stop that from happening. Seems they were just forgetting that their email address username was FirstNameMiddleInitialLastName and frequently left out the middle initial part. This oversight instantly turned their email address into mine.

Neat. Sure I got a BUNCH of very personal and private info about this other person but problem solved, end of story. Right? Well no, because that would be boring, and if that's all this post was about I would have given you a lot more of the details. No, that was just the first of many.

Next was someone in a different country that set up an internet-connected security camera to send an email every time there was motion near the structure where they stored their ATVs that included a video clip of the action. I tried to make these emails stop but they contained no unsubscribe method. Eventually just had to blackhole all emails coming from that service and never buy their hardware. Not a huge loss but still annoying.

After that were the emails from that same country containing service invoices from a Volkswagon dealership. That was easy enough to deal with. Just emailed the service department, explained that their customer had given them someone else's email address and never heard from them again.

So back to my own country, halfway across it, I get emails from another car dealership service department. Same deal. Took longer to get the emails to stop. About a year. But did finally make contact with a human who was very apologetic and again the problem went away.

This continues a few more times, primarily from US-based businesses and from a few individuals. I can mostly pin each of these emails as having been intended for one of three different people in the US and one or two in Canada. Years go by, and aside from the occasional uptick in spam and the odd purchase invoice from a furniture store, it's pretty quiet.

Then, years later, I start getting emails from Ionos about a domain expiring. I know this can't be for me as I don't use Ionos for domain registration or anything else. I had never even heard of them before getting the emails. Initially, I just deleted them as they came in but the volume increased. Account updates, policy changes, etc. I got tired of seeing them and I didn't want to blackhole everything from them and forget about it as I might end up needing to get emails from them someday for some reason that wasn't occurring to me just then. So I send an email to their support department letting them know that I was not their customer and that their customer had likely given them the wrong email address. What I get back from Ionos support was an email that very matter-of-factly stated that I was, indeed, their customer and that I owed them money.

So that didn't sit too well with me. One might say I was a bit annoyed. This is when I go very against my nature and make a phone call. I don't hate making phone calls but I do hate making phone calls to people I don't know. This was a whole company full of people I don't know and that had demonstrated that reading comprehension was not a high priority in their hiring process. Apprehension was high but that call was made nonetheless.

The first person I speak to is clearly a front-line rep, of which I have been one, and was not prepared for the story I had to tell. It took a few times of explaining the issue for it to sink in that I was not their customer but that my email address was being used by their customer. So once the rep grasped the situation and that it was resulting in me receiving communications from them intended for someone else I was transferred to someone in their security department.

The security department rep didn't have as hard of a time understanding the problem. Likely hears all kinds of weird stuff. This person tells me that they have other means to contact their customer and that they will reach out to the customer by those means. They thank me for letting them know about the issue and we part ways. I, foolishly, assume this is the end of it as it seemed that my initial contact was just one person failing to understand what they were being told. So I was a little taken aback when I later find an email from Ionos stating that a credit had been applied to "my account" and that there was an attached PDF containing the details of this credit. A PDF which included, among other things, the street address of the customer.

So Ionos had gone from insisting that I owned them money, to issuing their customer an account credit and in the process sending me their customer's personal information. All because they failed to confirm their customer's email address when the account was created and failed to remove the email address from the account when they were told that it was not correct.

Now here we are, almost a year later, and I receive yet another email from Ionos. Seems there was some change in how taxes will be applied, and they are letting all of their customers know. Of course, I am not their customer, but telling them that doesn't seem to make any difference. Getting this email brings back all of the frustration from the first encounter, so I send another email advising that I am still not their customer, have never been their customer, and that the complete incompetence displayed shows that I should never be their customer.

I bet you can guess how well that worked, can't you?

This is what I get back in response:

Thank you for contacting us.

I apologize for inconvenience and confusion this issue have caused.

Our record shows that last May 5, 2019, you signed up for a domain contract to register the domain, [DOMAIN REDACTED]. The domain expired last May 2020.This does not automatically cancel the domain contract. Please note that we did not charge you since the contract is empty.

I understand that you do not want to keep the empty contract so I have processed its cancellation. You will receive an email confirmation about the cancellation in a separate email.

If you still need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone at 1-484-254-5555 (US), 1-844-296-2059 (Canada), +1 (816) 621-4796 (International) or simply reply to this email. Alternatively, you can schedule a call back using the link below:


Yeah, it's "Let's Ignore You Part 2 - Electric Boogaloo". This also did not go over very well. Not at all. I might have responded with a lot of swearing. I might also have tweeted about my opinion that doing business with Ionos would be ill-advised unless one was o'kay with having their personal information sent to third parties who were trying to stop them from doing just that.

The next day I get a tweet from Ionos customer support apologizing for "the confusion" and stating that they don't know what I mean but also stating that the company doesn't send personal information out. A bold claim from someone that just said they don't know what I mean. Even bolder since that is exactly what had happened in June of last year.

We go back and forth; them trying to get me to move this into DMs, and me very much not being willing to do that. Ionos' chance to address this without public disclosure was a year ago. We were well past that now. I did, though, give them enough information to locate the customer account and I did later get another email advising that the account would be closed due to using fraudulent contact data. I think the wording was a little strong. It's most likely that this person failed to type their own email address correctly, and Ionos failed to perform the most basic of checks to make sure that the customer was reachable by this address. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Do I have any faith that this is actually over? None whatsoever. Do I expect to keep getting emails from Ionos? Absolutely. Will I do anything further if it happens? Just blackhole all emails from them, as there's no way I will ever do business with them at any point, ever.

To the social media rep that I was in communication with, I've done customer support before and understand the situation you found yourself in. I do not envy it. You had to do what you were doing. I respect that. I had to make sure that this was not kept a private matter.

All of this could have been avoided if Ionos had included email reachability checks in their signup process. Maybe this caught the attention of someone in the company that can make sure that something is added to future versions of their product. Again, I'm not holding my breath.