Welcome back to Tech 911, Lifehacker’s weekly tech-advice column that’s always looking to solve your challenges—geeky, strange, or otherwise. This week, we’re taking a look at a case of mistaken identity.
This is a situation I’m all too familiar with. I have fairly common name (thanks for ruining my Google rankings, baseball guy) and a close-to-that-name email address (thanks for stealing my name, the David Murphy who beat me to the punch in Gmail). Consequently, I’m sometimes getting others’ emails that weren’t meant for me, and my doppelgänger sometimes gets my email that wasn’t meant for him.
Lifehacker reader Michael has a similar issue:
“After reading your article about postal mail addressed to someone else I wanted to ask your advice on my problem.
I keep getting email for people who have given out my address as theirs.
Either it’s a typo, or the don’t have an email address and mine is the first one that pops into their head. It’s a common nickname where I’m from.
Sometimes it’s funny, like the time a concert promoter contacted me with an offer of a gig. Sometimes it’s serious, like the real estate agent that emailed a time sensitive rental agreement. Mainly it’s annoying like the fast food addict that signed me up for a delivery service… in another city.
If I’m feeling generous I’ll reply and inform them that this is the wrong email. Other times they are marked spam. With the delivery service I changed the password and then closed the account.
But what’s the best way to handle this?”
Honestly, there’s not much you can do to prevent others from signing up for services using your email address—mistaken or otherwise. If you get into the practice of whitelisting senders, something you could easily do with various apps or crazy filters, there’s a chance you might miss out on an email you want to receive from someone (or some company) that’s never bothered you before.
If there’s some common aspect to these mistaken-identity emails—maybe someone is using a variant of your name in the introduction, for example—you could filter messages containing that text to a separate folder that isn’t your inbox. Otherwise, I can’t think of a great way to prevent these kinds of emails from reaching your inbox. Some kind of “jump through this extra hoop to prove you really meant to message me” setup doesn’t really apply in this case, since you’re not being spammed per se. It’s a simple case of mistaken identity, one that’s (annoyingly) happening to you more than most people.
Perhaps Gmail is to blame
If you’re getting these missent messages on Gmail—you didn’t specify—it’s possible that someone is getting mixed up with the various symbols Gmail ignores in email addresses, like a period. In this case, sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com would go to the exact same Gmail account, even though those are two “different” addresses on paper. If this is the case, you can set up filters to catch and trash messages sent to the incorrect address—ensuring ensure that you never have to deal with anything sent to firstname.lastname@example.org if the address you actually use is email@example.com.
Automate your “this isn’t me” responses
At the very least, you could use a keyboard macro utility like AutoHotkey when you’re checking your email. Press a few buttons on your keyboard, and you can paste in a pre-generated message informing the sender that they’ve contacted the wrong person. That’ll save you some time when you’re replying to incorrectly targeted emails.
Unsubscribe, report, or filter
Beyond that, if a sender is getting annoying, you can unsubscribe from their messages (if applicable) via a link in the email itself. You could also report them as junk or spam—and if you’re on a service like Gmail, the “report spam” feature might prompt you to unsubscribe as part of that. If worse comes to worst, you could filter the sender so everything they send goes to your trash, but your issue sounds more like a one-off problem from multiple senders than one sender filling up your inbox with messages meant for someone else.
No matter what, make sure you’re staying on top of this issue, as you’ll want to act quickly if someone signs up for a fairly popular service—like Facebook, Uber, or whatnot—with your email address. It’ll be annoying to have to contact the company to correct this issue, but better to do that than have someone masquerading as you. (You can also probably just perform a password reset on the service itself, since you hold access to the email address, and take over the account yourself.)
The delete key is your friend
Anyway, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Were I you, I would either reply to those emails to correct the mistake (if you’re feeling nice), or just ignore/delete them. This kind of thing happens. If these incorrect emails get to be too much, and there’s a good method you can use to filter a few of them out of sight and out of mind, it’s worth investigating.
No matter what you do, don’t change your email address. Don’t give up an inch.
Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities to accomplish a particular task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.