Someone Is Using My Email Address!

Someone is using my email address and other info to sign me up online for various groups, seminars, etc. Are there laws regarding this? –Jim

While there are various federal and state laws against email “spoofing” and other forms of misleading or deceptive transmissions, the problem is tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators.

You’re assumption that “someone” is doing it is the first problem. In many cases, automated processes written by those that have less than noble intent are “scraping” your email address from a legitimate source (a Web site, a forum, a blog or one of those infamous emails that someone sends to “everyone they know”) and using it for their malicious purposes.

If you are getting email from sources that seem legitimate that you’ve never signed up for, your assumption that “someone” is signing you up is more likely to be the result of something that you subscribed to that had a side relationship with another group buried deep within the ‘I agree’ page.

As a business owner, I am constantly barraged by marketing firms that claim that they have “clean” email lists that only contain addresses of folks that have “opted-in” to a list saying that they would be OK with being sent “special offers.”

The problem I have with these claims is that I have yet to meet anyone since the inception of the Internet who has ever knowingly said that they have approved some random marketing firm to send them “special offers” whenever they felt motivated to do so.

The most likely causes of what you are describing are from rogue automated systems that have subscribed to a service using your address (in order to gain access to something else they were after) or your own actions of signing up for something and not fully reading the legal psychobabble agreement that you were required to agree to in order to get what you wanted (free download, chance to win, register for, etc.)

This is why we have preached since the beginning of the spam problem that you always have two email addresses: one that you keep private and one that you use for all of the various sites that you make purchases on or register for or when you join a social networking group.

The Internet is infested with sites that have no other motive than to get you to sign up for something that seems legitimate, but in fact is nothing more than a front to mine for email addresses.

Unless you are paying very close attention to everything you ever do on the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to keep your email address from being manipulated by those that can profit from it.

If you don’t have a second email address, sign up for a free account at sites like (Google’s free Web mail service),, and (Microsoft’s free Web mail service) and use it for anything that isn’t important from now on.

If you are being sent newsletters or other correspondence from legitimate companies or Web sites that you recognize, you can usually be safe in clicking on the unsubscribe link located at the bottom of the messages. But be very careful not to unsubscribe from messages that are not from familiar companies, because this is often a tactic used by spammers to get you to verify your address so they can sell it to other spammers as a verified address.

Old world ethics like respect and civility don’t exist on most of the Internet and your email address is the currency of the new economy, so guard it as best you can!

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services, Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show, and Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers.

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