A significant percentage of the emails I send from my Gmail account are ‘sorry, this is someone else, you’ve typed the address wrong’ emails
— Neil Turner (@nrturner) June 20, 2013
Gmail was announced on April 1st 2004 as an invite-only beta. At the time, some people (including me) thought its one gigabyte of email storage was an April Fools Joke, as back then Microsoft’s Hotmail offered a paltry two megabytes. But no, it was real, and by the time June 2004 had rolled around Hanni had kindly dropped me an invite. I went for ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ as my email address – ‘nrturner’ is the standard username I use for most things, including Twitter, being my first two initials and surname. It’s not always available, but as an early adopter of Gmail, it was in this case.
Sadly, this has led to a bit of a problem. ‘Turner’ is a very common surname – the 41st most common in the UK, apparently, with over 140 000 of us. And Gmail has become one the three most-used email platforms. So often, people type the addresses of other people with similar names incorrectly, and end up sending emails to me.
So far, I’ve been:
- sent booking forms for Occupational Health and Safety training in South Africa
- sent mortgage quotes for a property in Chester
- included in planning emails for a seminar on public health matters in Virginia
- asked to attend a school reunion in Connecticut
In these cases, I’ve contacted the senders to point out their mistake.
More recently, however, people have inadvertently used my email address to sign up for web sites. Someone in Indiana ordered a rocking chair online, and I was able to see her name, address, what she’d ordered and the Fedex tracking number. I contacted the web site and they kindly removed my email address from her account.
Yesterday, someone signed up for mapmyride.com with my Gmail address, so I did the same thing. I contacted customer support, asking for my email address to be removed from the person’s account, which belonged to a bloke in Texas. Except I had this response:
Unfortunately we cannot remove accounts unless the account holder contacts us directly. I apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.
Which is really annoying as every time this person completed an activity, I got an email. So, seeing as my Gmail address allowed me to reset the password and log in, I deactivated the account. Yes, it’s not my account and it will be an unpleasant surprise for the person whose account it was, but I don’t appreciate my email address being used without my permission, even if it is accidental. I’m also annoyed that mapmyride did not send a ‘please validate your account’ email which would have prevented this person from using a wrong email address in the first place.
Short of closing my Gmail account, there’s not a lot I can do – and considering how many things are linked to my Google account, that’s not an option. It’s just something I’ll have to live with. However, if you use Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail or any similar service, please make sure you type your email address correctly, and write it out clearly on any forms? Thank you.