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]!  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]!  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] 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] 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] (note the extra dot) still arrives at my address! Also, is the same as, 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)[at] 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] 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 :-)


Arrogant NASA

The UARS SatelliteI just sent this email to NASA:

I wish comment on your UARS news releases.  For example:

Update #10 Fri, 23 Sep 2011 03:45:08 PM GMT

” . . . The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility . . . etc etc . . .”

May I just point out how arrogant this is?  Do you think ONLY people in the USA are interested in where it falls?  I realise the chance of it hitting me personally are 1 in several trillion, but the attitude of your news feeds is incredibly insensitive!

You may have put UARS up there, but everyone is watching to see where it comes down.  However – as long as “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States”  Ahhh… fine … so that’s alright then.

Grrrr!   :-)

VodaFone – the continuing saga

VodaFone LogoRemember this?

Two days ago I received another email addressed to “Christopher”!  So once again I emailed VodaFone.  This is the reply I received . . .

Hi Stephen,

I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to you with regard to the bill notification at your email address.

In order to  help you, I would request you to please get back to me with the mobile number or the 9-digit account number for Christopher.

Once you get back to me with these details, I’ll update the notes on the Christopher’s account and you will not receive any notification in future.

You can get the account number on the bill.

I’ll look forward to your reply.

Kind regards,

Ratandeep Jha
Vodafone Customer Services

I replied:


  • I do not have the bill!
  • I do not know the phone number!

As I am not Christopher and I do not have a Vodafone account – I have no way of knowing what Christopher’s account number or phone number is!

In case I have not made this clear, I have NO IDEA who Christopher might be!  All I know is that for some strange reason, someone, somewhere called “Christopher” has given you my email address!  If I was asked to guess how this happened, I suspect it might be a young person who has quoted what he thinks is his Father’s email address for messages to be sent to.  Perhaps you might try looking for people called Christopher Bell and see if one of them has given my email address, because that is where these emails are being sent to!”


I’ll let you know what happens . . .

UPDATE:  It is now May 2011 and they are still arriving every month, sometimes twice per month and I’ve given up.

I still send every one back with “I am STILL NOT CHRISTOPHER!” but Vodafone take no notice.  Incompetant company!

Vodafone – still sending me other peoples emails

I guess it was around 2 years ago I started receiving emails addressed, ‘Dear Christopher’ from Vodafone.

They were reminders and links to “my account” online telling me my monthly bill was ready.

Now, as you may have noticed, I an NOT Christopher, neither do I have a Vodafone account.  So, naturally I queried this.  After a lot of too-ing and fro-ing, they ended up saying in effect, “it’s an email – just delete it”.


Anyhow, the emails are still arriving and somewhere, there is someone called Christopher, who has probably never received a monthly reminder.  So, I just sent Vodafone the following email . . .

“I am amazed that despite asking for this to be corrected many times, you are still sending me Vodafone “Your Monthly Bill is Ready” emails for someone else.

I do NOT have Vodafone account.  I am NOT Christopher.  MY email address is above.  Why do you think, Steve Bell might be someone called Christopher?

Please contact Christopher (whoever he is) by another method – via his mobile phone perhaps? – and find out what his email address is and correct this.

Please confirm to me you are taking some action on this matter.

Thank you.
Stephen Richard Bell
(In Worcester)”

I’ll let you know what happens.

Answer: Nothing happens.  I just got another one. (22 September 2010).

By Stephen Bell Posted in Stupid