30 August 2012

Wrong email! The GMail "dots issue"

Wrong number!

OK, so you get a call for Jane Anthony - but there's no-one by that name at your house. "What number were you dialling?" you say to your caller. "Oh, 908 5674 5555" says the caller.

"Well," you say "That IS my number, but there's no-one by that name here. You must have a wrong number."
Caller apologises, you both hang-up, and you are both comfortable. Because you both know that wrong numbers HAPPEN. And always have, and always will.

The one thing you do NOT do is immediately call the phone company and demand to know why they gave your phone number to someone else, and how they are going to mend this hole in their security, and you certainly don't ask them if all your calls are now going to this other person.

Wrong street address!

Imagine another scenario....the mailman delivers a letter addressed to your house, using your street number, but it's clearly meant for someone else. This happens all the time, too. Always has and always will. You don't immediately call the US Mail demanding to know why they gave your address to a different person. Nor would you ask them whether this other person was now getting all your mail.

Why? Because we all know, from long experience, that people make mistakes. People give the wrong housenumber to the bank (or the person in the bank writes it down wrong!), other people can never remember their own phone number, and always get two digits the wrong way round - after all, how often do you call your own number? And when you do, doesn't your phone do it for you anyway?

Yet those same rational folks who accept that other people make errors, and will happily accept the results of those errors - unwanted mail, wrong number calls - find it hard to grasp that the identical thing happens with email addresses.

Perhaps it's because email has only been around for 20 years or so, so we haven't yet learned to accept that folks make just as many mistakes with their email addresses as they do with their phone numbers and their house or street numbers. And because we still find the Internet a dark and mysterious place, and have little idea what goes on behind the scenes and how it works, any error is immediately nailed to the on-line equivalent of the phone company or the US Mail. It must be their fault - they must have given someone MY address.

In reality, of course, the mere fact that allocation of email addresses is handled by totally automated systems using totally automated checking methods on totally automated databases means that it is virtually impossible for them to go wrong unless they fall over in a very major way, in which circumstance they would be shut down till fixed!

Let's work through an example....

If your email address is janeanthony@magicemail.com, and another person named Jane Anthony tries to sign up with MagicEmail using that address, MagicEmail will scan their user database, find you, and the other Jane will be told the address is taken, and asked to choose another. So Jane now adds in her middle initial and asks for janezanthony@magicemail.com. "Yep!" says MagicEmail, after another automated search of their database, "we don't have a janezanthony on the list, so you're in!"

Now Jane Z signs into her brand new email account for the first time, and her browser, SnappyDragon, says "I'll remember that for you, then, shall I?" - and bang, her email address and password are stored by SnappyDragon and she never has to type them or even think about them again...

A week or two later our Jane Z decides she'd like an account with FakeBook.com. (© bkc56)  So off she goes to their website to sign up. When she gets to the bit where she is asked to enter her email address, she has to think a bit - "Ah, yes! I remember now, it's my name!" So she enters - yes, you guessed it - janeanthony@magicemail.com. Now, just like Twitless, FakeBook doesn't bother checking or validating the email addresses their users enter before they let them open and use their new accounts. So Jane Z merrily adds a whole bunch of friends and posts a few messages and signs up for notifications of everything....

And guess what. She forgot to add her "z" and all her mail from FakeBook floods into your account!

What do you do? Do you just say "Wrong email!", like you'd say "Wrong number!" or "Wrong street address!"? Well, to be fair, many internet-savvy people do - they just create a rule or a filter, and get rid of this rubbish into their Trash. They know it's just the internet equivalent of a wrong phone number or house number being given out by someone with a hopeless head for figures.

But most of us less-experienced folks just assume that MagicEmail has given "our" email address to someone else as well, and because we are getting that someone's mail, that someone must also be getting all of ours...irrespective of passwords or any other security measures. Fear of the unknown and lack of familiarity with the system makes it hard for us to get a handle on what has happened. We just blame our mail service provider and rarely stop to consider that another user has simply made a mistake and supplied an incorrect email address which just happens to be the same as our own.

So what does this all boil down to?

If you have a GMail or Googlemail account, and you start to receive mail intended for someone who appears to have the same address as you - or a dot-variant of your address - or the same address but at Googlemail instead of GMail - then it is almost certainly just a "Wrong number" style mistake by the other user. And you can be rock-solid sure that if you own first.last@gmail.com there is no other user out there who owns firstlast@gmail.com or first1ast@gmail.com or FirstLast@googlemail.com or any other variant of your own unique username.

Because GMail has made sure that your address is unique - see below for the nitty gritty of how that is done. So next time you receive an email addressed to you that was not intended for you, you can confidently say "Wrong number!"

There's one additional error made by others which can also lead to you getting someone else's mail. GMail put a stop to this more than two years ago, by making you get permission from the owner before you can forward your mail to any other address, but not all email services do this. And many users of other services like to forward their mail to their GMail account and handle it there. If they make a mistake when entering their own GMail address into the forwarding set-up in their other account, and enter yours instead, you could end up receiving mail that is inexplicably addressed to a complete stranger with a completely different username at a completely different domain!

For example, if yet another Jane Anthony has an old account at her ISP with the username dreamteen@herISP.com but likes to handle it through her more grown-up account with GMail, she'd enter her GMail address into the forwarding set-up in the other account. If she forgets that she's actually janeanthony99@gmail.com and just enters her name, that's another batch of "wrong email!" messages you will receive, all addressed to dreamteen@herISP.com. Mystifying? You bet!

You can trace this kind of error by viewing the message headers - open the message and choose Show Original from the dropdown menu next to the Reply button. Any forwarding will be clearly spelled out for you.

So what can you do about it?

Sadly, very little. Unless you want Gmail to read all your mail and decide whether or not it was intended for you, there's nothing at all that GMail can do. They do machine-scan your mail for spammy content and filter that out for you, but they can't use a machine to determine that a message can't be meant for you because:
  • you don't have a Twitless account
  • your boss is not John Doe Jnr, or 
  • you don't have a bank manager called Mr Parsons.... 
  • your wife's name isn't Freda
 If it's addressed to you, then they are duty-bound to deliver it - just like the US Mail. Your best course of action is to send a polite note to the sender informing them they have the wrong address for their contact/client/friend. If you find a phone number or an alternative email addy in any of the messages sent to you by mistake, you could even contact the person involved. If all else fails, and if the other user's mail is addressed to a dot-variant of your address or another address entirely, then you can use a filter to send those messages straight to Trash.

Some nitty gritty....

Username polices of the free email services

The main free email services have complicated this whole issue, to be fair. The main problem is that the major well-used services have different username policies.

The basic RFC 5322 specification for the local part (the part before the @ sign = username) of email addresses is as follows:
  • Uppercase and lowercase English letters (a–z, A–Z) (ASCII: 65–90, 97–122)
  • Digits 0 to 9 (ASCII: 48–57)
  • Characters !#$%&'*+-/=?^_`{|}~ (ASCII: 33, 35–39, 42, 43, 45, 47, 61, 63, 94–96, 123–126)
  • Character . (dot, period, full stop) (ASCII: 46) provided that it is not the first or last character, and provided also that it does not appear two or more times consecutively (e.g. John..Doe@example.com is not allowed.).
GMail's username policy is the most stringent. To protect users against any possibility of confusion, and to help avoid wilful impersonation, it does not allow most of the RFC-permitted local part characters. GMail flatly refuses any username that is not at least 6 characters long and is a unique combination of letters and digits. No periods are counted as username characters (though they can be used as name or initial separators if the user wants to add them), and capitalisation is ignored. So Jane.Z.Anthony is - to GMail's eyes - exactly the same address as janezanthony. Further exclusions include punctuation, all special characters (except the "+" sign in some circumstances) and any "lookalikes". For example, if janezanthony already exists, janezanth0ny is not permitted. GMail just doesn't allow any obvious possibility of confusion between usernames. No dots, no capitalisation differences, no underscores, no hyphens, no analog "lookalike" characters - only a different arrangement of simple alpha-numeric characters can result in a different GMail username.

Hotmail on the other hand - I was surprised to discover - DOES allow periods to differentiate between otherwise completely identical addresses, and was prepared to let me sign up for an account which was identical to an existing account except for a period in the middle. I found exactly the same at Yahoo. The pre-existing address was refused - the moment I added a period it was accepted. Yahoo was also willing to let me add a zero in place of an "o" and generate yet another new username.

It's no wonder, then, that so many GMail users find it hard to accept that Jane.Anthony and janeanthony are - as far as GMail is concerned - the same user. But it is not possible, unlike with Hotmail and Yahoo, for those two usernames to co-exist separately within the GMail system - the system will not and cannot allow it.


So which username policy is preferable?

As a GMail user I am naturally biased. But the whole push of the GMail system is towards increased user security and increased difficulty for those who wish to compromise GMail users.

Any possibility of making life harder for the bad guys by preventing confusion, impersonation and identity theft has got to be a good idea. Sadly for the other service providers, they now have so many users with what GMail would call 100% duplicate addresses that there isn't much they could do about increasing user security even if they wanted to. When janeanthony and jane.anthony and jane.anth0ny and janeanth0ny are all considered to be "different" email usernames, by both Hotmail and Yahoo, that horse has well and truly bolted and there's no point in belatedly shutting the stable door...

But there has just been a great opportunity to straighten up and fly right for Microsoft - except that they chose not to. Their new Outlook service - which was a firstclass opportunity to start again from scratch with a more secure and protective address policy for users - allows easy-to-hack 4-letter usernames, for a start. It also allowed me to sign up with myfirstmylast@outlook.com as well as myfirst.mylast@outlook.com - so the confusion will continue to reign, users will continue to have their security compromised by a lax username policy, and any ill-wisher can appear to have replicated a user's email address just by adding a dot or using "lookalike" characters.

In the meantime, Gmail users - whilst they will find the GMail policy on usernames hard to grasp because it runs counter to everything they are used to - are protected by Google as far as is possible from any wilful and deliberate replication, and all the accidental stuff as well.


References:

Someone Else's Mail - http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=10313
How to use Filters - http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6579
Show Original - http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=22454

73 comments:

  1. Though your thread is well intentioned, there appear to be a rash of comments on this matter, and it is possible the almighty Google made some back end change that allowed people to use similar emails.

    It's happening to me, and I don't believe the almighty Gmail is flawless, unfortunately. Evil seems to be spreading.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This takes no account of spoofed emails nor when you get your email address hijacked and used for criminal purposes. It simply seeks to reassure you that you're an idiot and the writer is being more than a little dismissive of your genuine concerns. If you receive emails from companies saying 'Welcome to us', don't be complacent, write to them immediately and point out that you did not join them,there has been an error and you want your email address removed from their database immediately. Especially if a purchase has been made and delivered to another address and person. It may be a genuine mistake - but it could also be someone making purchases using a stolen credit card, they give a random genuine email address to confuse the company when they realise that they have been scammed and contact you instead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Denise, I have to also add that apparently Google *has* allowed other people to sign up with accounts like mine--I've communicated with my 'wrong number' people and it looks like they used the right number, it just got sent to me instead of my 'twin' fellow Gmail user. And that they periodically get 'wrong number' e-mails that were aimed at me...and were correctly spelled/punctuated as my address!

      I have yet to be able to find any way to communicate with Google, and I suspect this is because they don't believe it's possible for their system to actually have a defect that needs resolution. The answer will continue to be that the rest of the world must be wrong, because it just *couldn't* be the software.

      Delete
  3. I have been experiencing this problem for about a year now... I have several Gmail accounts, but the one in question is "linda.weiss@gmail.com". I started receiving mail addressed to "lindaweiss@gmail.com" a while back. At first, I just responded to the sender (usually a commercial entity), explained that they had the wrong Linda Weiss, and asked that they try to use another form of communication with their intended recipient. Some companies have apparently done this because their emails have stopped. There are some, however, who continually send legitimate (to the other Linda Weiss) emails, but they hit my inbox because GMail disregards the "." inbetween my first and last name.

    I guess I don't understand how, when one of us already had the user name (lindaweiss or linda.weiss), it was possible for the other LW to obtain the same user name, if Gmail disregards "."s in user names. Was there some point in history when Gmail didn't disregard a period, and would allow two user names with the only difference being a dot?

    The problem now is that other than using a filter, I don't see a way to rectify the situation without completely deleting my email account, so no mail is routed to it. I'm still not sure that would allow the mail to be directed to its rightful recipient automatically, though - might it just be bounced back to the sender?

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  4. Linda -

    I fear you have missed the key point I was trying to make. The "other LW" was not permitted to sign up with the same username as you. The dot is viewed just a user-defined separator - Gmail only look at the alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers) when comparing usernames, and as duplicates cannot be created, no-one has been allowed to sign up with your username, with or without a dot. This has been the same since the very start of Gmail back in 2004.

    The "other LW" probably had to add a middle initial or number in order to create her account, but has now simply forgotten that, and is using the name she first thought of - yours. So you get some of her mail - you'd think she would work it out and realise her error, but till she does you are in fact doing all you can to put the matter right for her.

    However, because she doesn't use a dot and you do, you CAN use a filter to separate your mail from hers, and have hers routed to Trash so that it can't bother you in future.

    Here's a real life example of the error this other LW is making, which cropped up in the Gmail Help Forum a couple of years ago...

    http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!searchin/gmail/madsen/gmail/1Q3uBiaoR-4/DWIvtkEwFQIJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, sorry to interject here. But the thing is...the other person whose email isn't abc.def@gmail.com (supposedly as u said his email could've been abcxdef@gmail.com) is seen as replying via abc.def@gmail.com as can be seen in the thread. Now, how can that be since my email is abcdef@gmail.com as well as abc.def@gmail.com (as you pointed out). How can he reply using that account?

      Delete
  5. CWD, I beg to differ - and Linda, the same thing is happening to me. I have so far received emails intended for a Shane, Shaun, Stephanie, Stephen, Claussen, all using the same S.Claussen or sclaussen or s.claussen etc. email address. This is really driving me insane, lol. And when I respond to their address, they actually receive my messages. Explain that one away...
    This used to be my business account (translator here), will change that immediately.

    Best,
    Sue

    ReplyDelete
  6. Susanne -

    If you have proof that S.Claussen, sclaussen and s.claussen are all different email addresses and belong to different people, then do please bring it to the Gmail Help Forum. We will be only too glad to take it up with Google on your behalf.

    But thus far, in nearly 9 years since Gmail was launched to the public, every single instance has been proven to be "Wrong number!" - either via direct mistaken addressing or incorrectly-targeted auto-forwarding.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Chandan Deshmukh

    I face this kind of problem regarding dot (.) in between my name.
    Ex:- i have registered email as "abc.85xyz@gmail.com" but my email also works with "abc85.xyz@gmail.com".

    I thank one of user from Gmail group who provide me information on this that GMAIL ignores dot (.) in emails.

    Is anyone of you have more information on this.??

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have been testing out using Google Apps for my business and I was loving everything that I was using but then I experienced the "wrong number" issue with gmail that made me very nervous. I am receiving emails from an account similar to mine but definitely not mine. My personal email is abc.123@gmail.com and hers is abc123@gmail.com (no dot). I looked up gmail's explanation online and found this "While we know it might be unnerving if you think someone else's mail is being routed to your account, don't worry: both of these addresses are yours." This is definitely not the case as I am receiving very personal information from this other person including credit card numbers, plane and train tickets including addresses and phone numbers...and I just found that we both have access to the same Instagram account because of our email addresses. I tried to set up an account and it said I was already set up. After I changed the password I was logged in under another girls photo and saw all of her family photos/posts etc. This is something that she logs into frequently and my email was in the account settings. It was indeed the same girl from the train, plane, trip tickets that I was receiving as well. Since I am getting her emails, is she getting mine too? Can she see my personal information?? With all of this happening to my personal account I am very hesitant to purchase other gmail accounts and applications for my small business.

    I hate to close my account but not sure what else can be done.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If Google doesn't recognize the (dot) in the first part of the address, why would you allow an account to be created that way? It should have been flagged as an unavailable address. I have had my address for 7 years and this has not been an issue. Why would you allow someone else to create a new address with only a "dot variant" if you are aware the "dot variant" is not recognized?????????

    ReplyDelete
  10. yes, i agree Bob...but the point, i believe, is that it doesn't allow a new a/c with the variation in the characters that it doesn't recognize....its only that another person has forgotten / wrongly given ur true mail id or with the inserted unrecognizable characters as theirs... so u receive mails intended for them...however, i don't think they can view ur mails- the ciorrect one or the one with additl. unrecognizable characts......would like CWD to clarify the last point as that wud surely be un-nerving.

    ReplyDelete
  11. So what happens when someone uses your email address to register for sites? I'm not talking about fraud or scraping or anything. My case sounds like described above, I occasionally receive personal emails to someone with the same first name as me, I can tell by content and origin that they're not spam or automated, and I have sent a few emails back politely informing the sender that they have the wrong address since some of the emails seem important. That doesn't bother me, like you said, it's just a mixup of some sort. But what does bother me is that this person, or others I suppose, have used the address to register for legit sites like etsy or one that sells concert tickets, things like that. So now when I went to register for these sites myself I couldn't because there were already accounts registered under my address. Active accounts.
    The etsy account makes me angriest because they won't allow me to change the user name. What happened was I got an email confirmation that the account was set up and I had to click a link to verify and activate the account. I was wanting to start an account but hadn't yet. I contacted etsy and they wouldn't delete the account. So I used the link to get access to the account, changed the password and am now using it as my own, since they won't let me start a new one. It's aggravating that they won't let me change the user name though. And if the person who tried to open the account searches and sees "their" account active and being used by someone else will they flag it for fraud and think that I hacked them? What a headache.
    A few more shady sites were registered for with my email address, I just got access with the forgot password function and changed all the account information so the person won't be able to access it. No harm done, but the sites I actually do want to use are a bit of a problem.

    The only other thing I can think to do is, with the full name supplied in one of the personal emails, look them up on facebook and send them a friendly message that they're using the wrong address and hope that it stops.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dot mistake by gmail is happening also with me. My email id is abc.def@gmail.com, there is also another person whose name is Dr. Abc Def who uses the id abcdef@gmail.com. I have met this person face-to face when I first discovered this coincidence. I have also sent mail to abcdef@gmail.com and he has replied to me at abc.def@gmail.com. Most of the times we receive our emails correctly but sometimes ( rarely ) our email cross-over, In that case we simply call redirect the mail to accounts on other providers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Am am also getting other peson's mail mine is also abc.def@gmail.com and i am getting mail for abcdef@gmail.com.
      I am not sure if other side person is getting muy mail to his mailbox i.e mail for abc.def@gmail is being sent to abcdef@gmail.com.

      Please suggest teh way to get rid of this issue with gmail/

      Thanks

      Delete
    2. There is no issue.

      Someone else is giving out your email address instead of their own - so their mail comes to your account.

      Unless you are giving out HIS email address instead of yours, then he doesn't get your mail.

      Please read the article before asking questions that have been thoroughly dealt with.

      Delete
  13. I also have this problem, my email address is name.surname@gmail.com and the other address that I'm being sent emails to is namesurname@gmail.com which is for a user in Australia that is active, and their google searches come up on my android phone when using Google+

    ReplyDelete
  14. You all have the same issue which is explained at length above. But in a few short bullet points:

    1. Google does not allow accounts to be registered that contain the same alphanumeric characters as any other existing address. So if your email address is abc.def@gmail.com, anyone attempting to sign up for Gmail as abcdef@gmail.com or ab.cdef@gmail.com will be told that address is already taken, and told to choose an alternative.

    2. So they choose an alternative.

    3. But they then forget the middle initial or number that they added to create their alternative, and actually USE the name they first thought of - yours.

    4. So when they book travel tickets, sign up for web newsletters, join Facebook, etc, using YOUR Gmail address (and they CAN because none of those sites verify people's addresses) you get any resulting emails.

    5. A slightly different circumstance is that they actually sign up for these web services using one of their own addresses, but then have all the mail sent to that address forwarded to what they THINK is their Gmail account - but in fact it is YOUR account. As only Gmail itself bothers verifying forwarding addresses, their forwarded messages then get delivered to you.

    6. That's why it's often possible to see whole conversations in the mis-addressed mail you receive.

    Separately, for Milind..

    Milind, if you have any evidence that you and this doctor actually share the identical Gmail address, like, for example this alleged exchange of mails back and forth between abcdef@gmail.com and abc.def@gmail.com, please bring that evidence to the Gmail Help Forum, and we will be only to happy to present that evidence to Google on your behalf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand the whole dot thing and that it could definetely be the other party leaving out his middle initial. But, if Gmail doesn't recognized the dot, shouldn't email sent to kevin.thibeault and kevinthibeault both come to my original account, kevin.thibeault?? As of yesterday, I sent emails to both kevin.thibeault and kevinthibeault from another account and the only email that came back to me, was kevin.thibeault.

      Could you shed some light on this for me??

      Delete
  15. For the past couple days my wife has been receiving email at HER gmail account intended to be sent to two of MY gmail accounts. I am also receiving the email at both gmail accounts. This is not the same email for both accounts, it is email intended for two of may accounts is being delivered also to her account. She is not a forwarding party for either of these gmail accounts.
    Why is this happening and how do we correct the problem?

    ReplyDelete
  16. StephenA -

    You have a different issue - we need more information, so please bring the problem to the Gmail Help Forum

    Kevin -

    Yes, both messages should have been delivered to your account - BUT Gmail abhors duplicates, so if you sent the same message at the same time with the same message ID, one of them will have been discarded as a duplicate on arrival.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well, I DO get email addressed to elizabethhowe@gmail.com periodically and she gets mine (since I did not get the email and sender confirmed the send). My email is elizabeth.howe@gmail.com (note the 'dot'). It is not all the time, just sometimes, so apparently there is a glitch in the gmail logic somewhere. I've been testing this out now for approx 2 yr and I KNOW this is happening, regardless of what the 'official' position is. It is consistent enough I know some stuff about the other person...so that's kinda scary...apparently it's her primary email although this is NOT my primary...thank heavens! When I attempt to send to elizabethhowe@gmail.com it comes to me...so the logic is only faulty SOME of the time. WHAT is google going to do about that!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Elizabeth - if you have incontrovertible proof that there are two different Gmail accounts with the same name (other than a dot) then please visit the Gmail Help Forum and provide your proof. We will be happy to take it forward to Google on your behalf.

    But from what you describe, you have simply fallen into the same trap as everyone else. Because you sometimes receive mail addressed to your account without the dot being inserted, you have assumed there is another account, and that this person also gets your mail.

    There is no other account - just yet another instance of a person with a similar name to you giving out the wrong email address. You therefore get her emails. She doesn't get yours, because her account does not have the same name as yours. She is probably elizabethzhowe or elizabethhowe99, but because elizabethhowe is what she wanted, she has forgotten the modification she had to make, and gives that address out regardless.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ok I am now posting on a blog that really has nothing to do with my question or trouble.
    Exactly 9 hours and 57 minutes ago I checked and moved my mail into appropriate folders, I then went to open one of the folders that contained very important Immigration papers that I wanted to print and start the long process of filling out, but that folder was empty-As was every other flagged folder-As was the all mail folder-As was the drafts folder-As was the trash folder-as was the archive folder!!!!!!
    I then approached all available help links gmail had to over only to read 'There is a problem loading your question please try again' So I google that results in nothing helpful, I then go to Microsoft again nothing, then windows yes again NOTHING,then ASUS help aaannnnnddddd NOTHING!!!!! 9 plus unbelievable beyond a joke really at the end of my tether hours later I am now posting in this area of Gmail and to see if I can get an answer that is "THIS IS HOW YOU CAN RETRIEVE LOST IMPORTANT OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT EMAILS THAT YOU CAN NOT APPLY FOR AGAIN!!!!" as in this day and age I find it very difficult to believe there is no way to retrieve lost data like this! If the answer is that I cant I will happily be deleting this account after I print every single wasted avenue I have taken in over 9 hours and will be sending copies as explaination to the ATO Immigration and various Superannuation companies waiting for thier return emails from me!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. You are right that a totally unrelated blog is not the place to ask for help about mail that you can't find.

    Go here and ask your question: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/gmail

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hello,

    I work at Hackney Community College, London, England. We use Google as our email services.

    My work email address is: initialsurname@hackney.ac.uk. I recently sent an in-house email, with a query, to my IT department: ...@hackney.ac.uk.

    For a reasons which my IT department cannot explain, I received four replies (14th and 15th May) from the IT departments help desk email to my personal e-mail: firstname.surname@gmail.com.

    I have never used my personal e-mail to contact the IT department and therefore there is no reason to suggest how they could have intentionally or in error replied to my personal email.

    Is it possible that the responsibility lies with Gmail? Could there have been a 'temporary glitch' where gmail recognised the relation between my work and personal email accounts leading to a cross-communication channel?

    I hope my language is not too non-technical. I look forward to receiving a reply. Please request any further info to help resolve my query.

    Kind regards


    ReplyDelete
  22. Toks -

    Your problem has nothing to do with this issue, which is strictly related to people giving out someone else's email address as their own.

    Go here and ask your question: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/gmail

    ReplyDelete
  23. My problem is one that I haven't seen covered here or in any help topics. My gmail address is the name of a flower @gmail.com (for example, but not my real address, dahlia@gmail.com). I regularly get email that is intended for dahlia1234@gmail.com, or dahliaabcd@gmail.com, or some other combination of my flower plus some other digits. It seems like Gmail just routes email that starts with my email addy to me, despite the extra characters that might be there. There are no dots involved, it's all just alphanumeric characters.

    So why does this happen? It is very annoying.

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    1. Unknown -

      If you can provide the full headers of messages which were addressed to dahlia1234@gmail.com, but were delivered to dahlia@gmail.com, I would be most interested to see them, and take them forward to Google for an explanation.

      So raise this issue in the Gmail Help Forum and we can take it further:
      http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/gmail

      Delete
    2. I will search for one of these messages. I tend to delete them, but I remember getting one several days ago. Stand by...

      Delete
  24. I also have the dot issue. My email is name.surname@gmail.com. I regularly get email addressed to namesurname@gmail.com that is intended for other people. And, like mentioned above, I have emailed those people and had them respond to me. So far I have had 6 other people sign up for namesurname@gmail.com, and I get their mail. Gmail is not supposed to let them sign up for a variant of an existing address, but it does. And yes, I know you are going to tell me it's not possble, but you are wrong. Four of the other people have replied to my inquiry that YES, Gmail DID allow them to sign up for the address. Most of them have quit using their account and signed up for another after I've explained the situation, but not always. The current one is emailing like crazy and I get tired of removing all the emails that are meant for her. Every time I get an email that is a confirmation for a forum or website that she has signed up on, I unsubscribe her. Maybe she will eventually get tired and quit, but I may be forced to abandon Gmail if she doesn't as it is definately flawed. And yes I've brought this up on the help forum and been handed the same line of "it's not possible to sign up for a variant of an existing account", even after copying and pasting in the emails from the other users where they stated that Gmail did let them sign up. Very frustrating.

    ReplyDelete
  25. AverageJoe -

    "So far I have had 6 other people sign up for namesurname@gmail.com, and I get their mail."

    As is normal with any claim of this kind, proof will be required before this can be taken to Google for an explanation.

    Delivery of email addressed to your account but intended for someone else is not, in itself, proof that two accounts with the same username actually exist. Nor is verbal assurance that "Yes, of course this address is mine - I signed up for it", as the user concerned is simply mistaken.

    If you have proof then by all means come back to the Help Forum and raise the question again.

    http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/gmail

    ReplyDelete
  26. Why does no one show mail headers in their examples of the occurrences? Well.. I will.

    The below happened yesterday:
    from: "Castro, Laurita"
    to: charlessharp@gmail.com mark@signaturehomebuilders.com
    folder: charles.sharp@gmail.com/Inbox
    date: Thu, 13 Jun 2013 18:34:27 +0000
    subject: Seller's opening package - 21805 SW Pacific Hwy (Email Ref=860115986)

    Notice the "to: field. My account is charles.sharp@gmail.com, NOT charlessharp@gmail.com. I get this guys emails all of the time but he does not get mine, thank God.

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  27. Charlie -

    Please read the article again, as you don't seem to have understood it at all?

    In a nutshell, charles.sharp[at]gmail.com and charlessharp[at]gmail.com are the same account. They have the same alphanumeric characters, in the same order. The dot is irrelevant.

    Try this - check the account recovery options for both variants of the address - the one with the dot and the one without the dot. You'll see they both have 2 step verification enabled, and have registered the identical account recovery email address. Is that likely, if they were in fact different accounts belonging to different people?

    The "other" Charles Sharp, the one without the dot, is simply giving out the wrong email address. And as it happens to be ours, you get his mail.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Read the threads and some appear to be valid and others no. I can totally relate to the later.

    I keep getting someone else email whom has the same name. When i message with/without the dot it comes to me. The other person is in a different country (UAE i think) than North America so i am starting to think that it's domain issue that may have caused it.

    I get travel itineraries, account confirmations and email lists. Question is what is the other person getting when i cannot even contact them.

    I'm starting to smell a litigation here on the grounds of privacy. You're being very evil here google.

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    1. Elie -

      READ the article above.

      There are no accounts with the same username. There is only one Gmail domain. Even the Googlemail "domain" used in Germany and England until recently is only an alias for the Gmail domain.

      You get someone else's mail because the "someone else" is giving your Gmail address instead of the one that belongs to him. And yes, it is that simple.

      Tell me, do you ever receive email from this person's wife/husband/mother/boss/work colleague/best friend? I'll lay odds you do not - because all those people know your "alter ego's" REAL address. And that's the one they use.

      You only get the mail sent to them by websites and online shopping accounts where they signed up with what they THINK is their address, but is actually your address.

      By all means attempt to start litigation on the grounds that the "evil" Google is invading your privacy by giving someone else your email address. You will be laughed out of any attorney's office.

      Delete
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  30. I am having this issue and SO exhausted from it already.

    My email address is name.name@gmail.com and I also have namename@gmail.com registered as "send from" in my account. Someone using namename1986@gmail.com is CONSTANTLY emailing me. I get their facebook notifications, their dating profiles, their resumes and it is driving me bananas.

    I contacted her and she is insisting that she is NOT sending anything to my email address but to her own namename1986@gmail.com.

    If someone can help both of us I think we would GREATLY appreciate it.

    Thanks,
    name (just kidding) Ashley

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  31. Sorry that is so many caps locked words but this is really starting to get on my last nerve and I'm sure it's driving her nuts as well.

    For the record, we have the exact same first and last name it's not completely random.

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  32. Ashley - please bring your problem to the Gmail Help Forum. This is not the right place.

    But basically, you have the same problem as everyone else. You are receiving mail which is addressed to your account but meant for someone else.

    In your case, your namename1986 alter-ego is probably forwarding all her mail to what she thinks is another of her accounts - i.e. namename - but which just happens to be yours.

    Look at the headers of these message you are receiving addressed to namename1986 to trace the forwarding.

    ReplyDelete
  33. this is still ongoing for me. I'm getting more and more emails for someone else, some very important, like banking stuff. It's making me wonder what emails I might be missing because they're going to someone else.

    I tried emailing my address with different punctuation to see where it would go. my address is namenumber@ so i tried name.number, name-number and name_number. the one with the . came to me, the other 2 came back failed delivery, saying the addresses don't exist. if gmail is supposed to ignore the marks and send it to me they would not come back with that error right? or do they not allow - and _ in their addresses?
    anyway I'm getting really fed up with this

    ReplyDelete
  34. Sandra -

    Your actual username is just the letters and numbers which make up "namenumber" - nothing else. In addition to the letters and numbers, you are allowed one or more dots which are NOT part of your username, but can be used to separate, say, "first" from "last" or "first" from "number" - the dots are just cosmetic.

    But this is only true for dots. Dashes and underscores - or any other punctuation mark - are not allowed.

    So your experience is exactly correct. The message sent to the address with a dot was delivered to you, as it should be, and the other two were returned as undeliverable, because those usernames do not exist.

    I realise it's frustrating to receive someone else's mail, but there is nothing you - or Google - can do about it. All the while someone out there is giving out your address instead of their own, you will get their mail. Just like you'd get their phone calls if they were consistently giving out your phone number to other people because they always got the last two digits the wrong way around. It's just the electronic equivalent of "Wrong number".

    All you can do is keep writing to the senders of these mis-addressed messages to tell them they have the wrong address for their customer/client/member.

    You can rest assured that no-one is getting your mail - unless you too are giving out someone else's address?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Yep, this is happening to me too!!! I have had my account since Gmail first kicked off when it was Beta. About 4-5 years ago I started getting mail to a lady with my name with a dot between the names. Now I understand that the dot is meant to make no difference but clearly there has been a glitch (I am wondering if it because I started with beta)
    Over the past 18 months I am getting innundated with her mail and have replied repeatedly to senders asking them to contact her to sort it out to no avail and naturally there is the worry of the reverse happening....why can we not contact gmail directly?? I would really like to have this addressed

    ReplyDelete
  36. There is no glitch.

    You are simply the victim of yet another user who does not know their own email address and is repeatedly using yours to register online or sign up for services.

    Provided you are giving out your own address correctly yourself, there is no risk of your incoming mail going to anyone else's account, as your account is the only one that exists with that username (with or without a dot).

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  38. Thanks for an informative post. I was very confused until I read this.
    I couldn't unsubscribe with "SafeUnsubscribe" until I tried a form of e-mail address without the dot and then they recognized me and removed me from their list.

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  40. When I originally signed up, firstnamelastname was taken, so I tried firstname.lastname and was allowed to create the account. I signed up in June of 2006, and didn't start getting her email (without the dots) until probably sometime in 2010 or 2011. Google changed something at that time, apparently, attempting to make the periods not matter. I didn't get all of her mail, just some of it. It appears she's abandoned the account now though (thank goodness), but, the fact is, she is not a figment of my imagination. She exists, and I know she had the account first, because it wasn't available when I tried to register for it.

    I *only* used the period in between because the name without the periods was taken! At some point in time, Google was allowing this to happen.

    With that being said -- if I go to firstnamelastname (no dot) and use my password to log in, I get my account (with the dot). Is this because she abandoned the account and they put them together? I don't know.. but I am positive that Google allowed her to register firstnamelastname and me to register firstname.lastname back in June of 2006.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Not so. You are simply remembering wrongly.

    Gmail has never permitted (a) the re-use of previously allocated but disused Gmail usernames nor (b) the differentiation of email addresses by only a dot. No change has ever been made, neither in 2006 nor in 2010-2011.

    Here are some totally independent posts on various internet sites, dating right back to a few days after Day One of Gmail on 1st April 2004, which prove that you claim to be "fact" has never, ever been possible.

    http://www.errorik.com/archive/2004-04.htm
    http://itsmygmail.blogspot.com/2004/07/gmail-address-variations.html
    http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/archive/index.php/t-11532.html
    http://blogoscoped.com/forum/603-full.html

    ReplyDelete
  42. Add me to the list of folks who have been receiving other peoples email, and it's not because of a typo. This started shortly after the first of the year, and in todays mis-directed email, I found a secondary address to the other person. I wrote him at that other address. His response to me was that he did, indeed, register into gmail *with the same gmail address* that I've had since April, 2004, no typos!

    In our exchange, and in reading over this blog, I notice one possible clue that has been mentioned in passing, but never explicitly stated as a possible bug: While not everyone says it, it seems that this type of problem happens when one of the parties is *not* located in North American, and the other is.

    In my case, the other guy has agreed to drop the address from his contacts, address book, etc., and we'll see if that does help. I hoping that it will.

    I know that you're going to tell me that it's not possible, the system won't allow it, someone typed the wrong address, but.......it did (and apparently does) happen.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Thanks for that information, negs - but in 10 years, no-one has ever been able to provide proof that Google allowed two people to sign up with the same Gmail address.

    You are now in a perfect position to do that - and if you can, I will be more than happy to take the proof to Google. All you need do is ask the other person to send you an email message from the address he claims is a duplicate of yours, and then take a screenshot of the message showing the identical To and From addresses.

    We can then take that proof to Google and demand an explanation.

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  46. Honestly, Google should have just allowed the damn period to be accepted in email addresses. Clearly this happens to a ton of people. Fortunately I auto-forward everything from my ISP email account to my Gmail account as backup; otherwise I'd be going nuts with the volume of email I receive for the other Katie Karston. I've never had this type of problem with any other email account I've owned over the years. Sadly, I could probably steal the other Katie Karston's identity if I was a dishonest person, with the amount of info I now have on her. I know both her maiden and married names, I know what she does for a living (she's an anesthesiologist) and where she works. I know that she plays tennis and is a Republican, and I also know that she has a daughter named Madison. I realize it is entirely the other Katie Karston's fault that I have so much information, but does Google not see this as a problem? If I signed up with katie.karston and she is telling people that her email address is katiekarston@gmail.com, why doesn't Google simply bounce the emails going to katiekarston??? I don't want, nor need to use katiekarston. I'm quite happy with the katie.karston that I originally signed up with.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Katie -

    You mean you really WANT someone else to be able to own katiekarston@gmail.com? When your own address is katie.karston@gmail.com?

    Well, you might see that as a solution, but Google did not. They saw huge potential for impersonation and identity theft, and so do not allow it.

    The key fact here is that the "other" Katie Karston does not own the email address she thinks she owns.

    Her address is probably katiezkarston or katiekarston99. If she were using her own address, there would be no issue.

    Sadly she doesn't know her own address. She thinks she owns yours, and that's the one she uses everywhere. Which is why you get her mail.

    Now with the best intentions in the world, Google cannot legislate for people who forget their own email addresses and deliberately use someone else's.

    If you don't want to see the other Katie's messages in your Inbox, you can in fact create a filter which will divert all mail addressed to you without the dot straight to Trash. Filters DO see the dot.

    However, you'd need to keep an eye open - as all it needs is for one of your own contacts to forget your dot, and their mail will go to Trash along with all of hers.

    ReplyDelete
  48. CWD, I do not know who you are but I can assume by your responses that you are not in customer service as your responses tend to make you appear very arrogant and positive that you can not be wrong. I have worked tech support for both computer and cell phone companies and have experienced many issues that even the engineers who developed the hardware and software have claimed to be impossible. Before you claim that the customers were telling me lies or were wrong I had the devices in question sent in to the company to be checked out and most cases have been confirmed. Glitches happen and features that are supposed to prevent certain actions from happening have been known to happen. No system is perfect, if the systems were perfect then those of us in tech support would find ourselves out of work.
    Due to what I have stated I do not believe that you would actually contact Google even if we provided evidence supporting this problem being real. From your answers I think you would be more likely to just think that the evidence was "created" to prove you wrong and is fake. What would be of greater value would be to provide the contact info that people appear to be searching for when they find your one-sided article instead of treating them as if they do not know anything and must bow before your supreme knowledge. If you worked for a company that I was a manager at I would not hesitate to fire you for your poor customer service and know-it-all attitude.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Erin Crocker - I don't know who you are either, but it's clear you don't know a great deal about this issue, or even how internet mail works.

    I can assure you that extensive troubleshooting and investigation has been carried out into these particular user errors for ten solid years - ever since Gmail arrived on the scene. My article above summarises the findings. It may seem to you to be one-sided - but that's because there is nothing but a big fat zero on the "other" side....

    There have been - by now - many thousands (maybe even millions) of instances reported (we still get at least 2-3 dozen a week on the Gmail help forum) and there has never, ever been a case where proof has been provided that two people have the same Gmail address except for a dot.

    And getting the proof is very, very easy. All you need to contact the other person via phone or snailmail - and the misaddressed mails nearly always contain such contact information if you keep an eye on them - and have them send you an email message from their Gmail account. A simple screenshot of that message, showing your address and his address as being identical is all the proof that is required.

    But in ten years, no-one has ever been able to come up with such a simple piece of evidence. Because naturally, when such an email arrives, it always demonstrates clearly that the other person does NOT have the same address, with or without a dot - they have simply been using the wrong address instead of their own.

    So whilst it is true that no system is 100% perfect 100% of the time, the lack of any adverse proof at all in the entire ten years of Gmail's existence pretty much proves the case, wouldn't you say?

    The remainder of your comment is deliberately offensive and provocative - so isn't worthy of acknowledgement. Anything further in the same vein will be deleted.

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  51. I regularly get emails intended for other folks with the same initials and surname as me.
    Some with my initials(dot)surname@gmail.com and some with my initials(no dot)surname@gmail.vom and the same with @googlemail.com.
    When this first happened a few years ago I had an exchange of emails with a nice lady in USA who duly asked her friends to ensure that they used her initials(no dot)@gmail.com to avoid this happening but I still get mail every day.
    I informed Google about it a few years ago but they have not replied yet. Busy I suppose?
    I also get messages intended for another lady in USA and another in the UK.
    The nice lady in USA who I had the mail exchange with has some kind of connection with the US Naval Reserve and they send me confidential stuff all the time. I delete it as soon as I get it these days after watching that Homeland series on the TV.
    I expect that one of these days the NSA or FBI or CIA or the Green Berets or Homeland Security (take your pick) will come crashing through my skylight in the middle of the night when they suddenly realise that the impossible is happening on a daily basis and an "outsider" is getting access to their secret squirrel type documents!.
    Have a nice day as they say.
    (Just remember...........it can't happen!)

    ReplyDelete
  52. Your last statement is correct - it can't happen.

    The reason you are still getting mail for the nice lady is because whether she tells her friends to use or not to use the dot, she is still giving out the wrong Gmail address. Her mail is still being addressed to you. And her mail is delivered to the account it is addressed to. Yours.

    Same goes for the others.

    Gmail only takes account of letters and numbers in usernames. You can scatter dots all over your address, as many as you want, but they are all ignored completely.

    New accounts that have usernames that contain the same letters and numbers in the same order as any existing (even a deleted) account are not allowed to be created, and will be rejected.

    So it is not possible for anyone else out there to share your username.

    As you are in touch with the nice lady, get her to send you an email. Then you'll be able to see what her REAL Gmail address actually is.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Apologies for wasting your time and for not explaining myself more clearly.
    I'll try again.
    When I first received the response from the nice lady in the USA all those years ago I clearly remember checking her email address and the only discernible difference between her address and my address (that I could see) was the she did not use a dot between her initials and her surname like I do. Which is what she agreed to advise her friends and colleagues about to avoid confusion.

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  54. In that case, are you up for contacting her again? Or if not, do you still have the original email she sent you?

    If you can provide real evidence that Google have ever allowed two accounts to exist with identical usernames (except for a dot) you will the the first and only one in more than 10 years.

    A screenshot of her message to you showing the identical To and From addresses will do the trick.

    And if you can provide that proof I guarantee to take it to Google for you.

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  55. Next time I am home I will crank up the old confuser and see what I can do!

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  57. CWD, I am LMAO reading these responses. You have incredible patience. I frequently make use of the dot feature on Gmail (for filtering). I arrived on this page when googling if it's possible to sue someone who continues to give out my email address as her own. After reading this page, I'm willing to give her the benefit of doubt. She's just stupid, not malicious.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Yep, 'fraid so. And no-one can legislate against stupidity. Not even Google.

    In most cases you can rule out malice - nobody would deliberately give out someone else's email address - unless, of course, they don't WANT to ever receive any mail and want all their contacts, their bank, their PayPal account, Facebook etc to send all their mail to a complete stranger they have never met.

    But the number of people who don't know their own address, and therefore give out someone else's, is escalating daily. With over 450 million Gmail users already out there, the likelihood of getting the username you want is extremely remote. Most people have to choose an alternative. But the only username they remember is the one they wanted. So that's the one they use....even though they were told that it belonged to someone else, and they themselves had to choose something different.

    One acquaintance of mine, who has a pretty everyday first and last name and joined early enough in the life of Gmail to be the first person to want to sign up for her first.last@gmail.com, has at least 6 other people using her Gmail address, all of them 100% convinced it belongs to them....

    We still get questions on this topic in the Gmail Help Forum many, many times a week from users convinced that Google has allowed someone else to sign up for their account. Convincing them of the reality, as you see here, is pretty difficult.

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  59. I seem to be experiencing what you say is impossible. Gmail has given out a firstnamelastname@gmail.com to one person and let me have firstname.lastname@gmail.com. We are two different people and I frequently get her email. And if I try to send email to her at firstnamelastname@gmail.com it comes to me.

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  60. Of course it comes to you. Because all variants of your firstnamelastname@gmail.com address, with or without dots, belong to you.

    This other user is simply using your email address. Because it is 110% certain that she was NOT allowed to sign up with your username.

    Please read the article above.

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  61. I cannot fine an answer to the question posted by Vincezen on June 1, 2013
    To delete thousands of mails, 20 mails (one page) at a time is too frustrating. There must be a better way!?

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  62. S M Loh -

    Is there any particular reason why you have posted this question on a totally unrelated blog about a completely different subject?

    If you want to learn how to delete multiple emails, visit the Gmail Help Centre.

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  63. I am new to this. I thought all questions relating to Gmail can be posted here.
    The Gmail help has noting on deleting more than 20 at a time.
    If this post offends you, sorry.

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  64. If you can't find your way to the Help Centre pages about deleting messages, then go to the Gmail Help Forum

    https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/gmail

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