Spam emails and the problems with having a common name

I have a fairly common name – Stephen Bell.

If you take into account that some people use Steven Bell and both they and I often use Steve Bell, Wolfram Alpha’s best guess is that there are around 2,500 – 3,000 Steve Bells scattered around the globe.

So far so good, but then add the complications that out of all those Stephen, Steven and Steve Bells, I got the Gmail email address stevebell[at]gmail.com!  Yes, I was quick wasn’t I?!

The ‘complications’ arise in two or three different ways:

'Wow! I've got one from someone I know!'Firstly, everyone who knows someone called Steve Bell and also knows he has a Gmail address, thinks his address must therefore be stevebell[at]gmail.com!  Loads of people guess at email addresses or just assume they know best. (Yes this may turn into a bit of a rant – sorry about that! :-) So they happily send off emails inviting me to parties, quoting me for insurance, and even discussing my re-mortgaging complete with all the private figures regarding my recent divorce settlement – yes really!

There is also a priest who shares my name. A few years back, he wanted a Gmail address and finding I already had SteveBell… he settled on; guess what; SteveBel… yep, one “l”.  What do you think happened?  He sent out parish newsletters and distributed cards with his new email address and everyone thought he had mistakenly left off a letter “l” – and emailed me!  I received prayer requests, Wedding and Christening arrangements and all sorts of private communications of the sort that should stay private between parishioners and their priest. Despite me forwarding on email after email, and telling him what was happening, it took him over a year to fix the problem. Crazy.

Secondly, even other Steve Bells think they are me!  They try to sign up stevebell[at]gmail.com and then, finding I already have it (since June 2004 in fact) they settle on something different. The trouble is, they forget they did not get “my” address and start signing me up for things!  I have lost count of the mailing lists I have been placed on by other people who believe they own my email address.  I even had to call one man in New York and explain to him in simple words that my email address does not belong to him and please stop signing me up for things!

Thirdly, another part of the problem is that Gmail ignores dots.

You will have gathered by now, my actual email address is stevebell[at]gmail.com. This may not exactly match the email address many people use to send emails to their favourite Steve Bell. Because Gmail ignores dots, a message sent to steve.bell[at]gmail.com (note the extra dot) still arrives at my address! Also, @gmail.com is the same as @googlemail.com, so if an email is sent to stevebell[at]googlemail that’s still me.  And of course, these work collectively, so if an email is sent to, (for example)  s.teve.be.ll[at]googlemail.com it still arrives in my inbox!

Double Opt-in

Finally, come the idiot, unhelpful and non-caring companies and organisations who do not properly obey the USA “Can Spam Act” or the United Kingdom “Law on Marketing and Advertising“.

Both of these important pieces of legislation say much the same thing. In effect:

  1. You’re only allowed to send marketing emails to individual customers if they have given you permission.
  2. Every marketing email you send must give the person the ability to opt out of (or ‘unsubscribe from’) further emails.

Now then – listen up commercial organisations – especially American ones.  Putting a link at the bottom of your email saying “Manage your email preferences” does not work if you did not sign up the account and have no idea what user name and password were used to create it!  Worse still, is when there is no other means of contacting you. Some organisations think this is OK – IT IS NOT!

I live in England, and I am not about to pay transatlantic call charges to call your “toll free” number in the States to spend 20 minutes trying to make your support person understand that Steve.Bell is the same thing as stevebell to Gmail!

Here is the bottom line, all commercial organisations should be using double opt-in when collecting email addresses.  If they do this, and some other Steve Bell thinks he is me and signs me up for something, I receive an email asking me to click a link if I wish to sign up for that particular email list.  I ignore it and no harm is done.  Here’s a brilliant example – Twitter even has a “Report that someone else is trying to use your address” link in their double opt-in emails; Brilliant!  WTG Twitter!

I recently had an email conversation with Ashford University in the USA. The end result is yes, “Terol Pursell / Admissions Counselor / Forbes™ School of Business” certainly did swiftly and cheerfully remove my email address, but added the comment:

“I appreciate you letting me know this is the wrong email for the student.  To each their own on the bulk email preferences.  Also given the nature of the request a double opt in is not efficient.”

Hang on a minute. I don’t care if it’s “efficient”!

It is not ‘efficient‘ for me to have to jump through hoops to get my email address removed!

I should not have to; you should not be emailing  incorrect addresses!

Check the email address is correct before emailing it!  Now THAT is “efficient“!  How difficult can it be?  Neither is it a case of “To each their own” it’s one of the Can Spam Act’s requirements.  You cannot “guess” at email addresses.  Come on; get your act together Ashford University; your attitude is, sadly, typical of many, but it won’t do!

Also, given the problem of what I shall term the the “serial-Steve-Bell-signer-upper” I have often asked organisations who should have a phone number or postal address for these other Steve Bells to please call them, or write to them, and explain they are signing ME up for things.  As far as I am aware, not once has this simple request been enacted.  Please do so, it’s the very least you can do for not using double opt-in!

Those, briefly are the problems of having a fairly common name and a good, appropriate email address; how many problems afflict the owner of JohnSmith[at]gmail.com I have no idea – but I hate to imagine!

If I have pointed you to this Blog page because you also have sent me emails, please help me – just make certain you delete my address (by which don’t mean stop sending me stuff – I mean DELETE it) and move along please . . . there’s nothing to see here.

The Black List

There follows a list of the “unhelpful” – to which I shall add as new examples emerge of companies and organisations who do not use double opt-in and who make it difficult or impossible to unsubscribe if one is in my position.  The list below was started at the beginning of January 2015.

Who will be next to join the list? Don’t make it you!

Steve Bell (as if you hadn’t gathered that by now :-)

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3 comments on “Spam emails and the problems with having a common name

  1. Great rant, Steve! you have my sympathy. maybe the only way out would be to drop responding to gmail altogether after notifying folks to correspond with you here. At least it would winnow wheat from chaff. Best wishes to you from N. Florida, USA

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