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I have a friend who has been getting quite a lot of traffic to his personal email account that is not his activity. This would include someone in California requesting auto insurance quotes. This would include someone in Minnesota requesting free tickets to an event. And the prompt for this question, in the last month or so, several people (half a dozen or so) making online purchases and using his email as their contact information. My friend has been reaching out to the companies to tell them that the email they are using does not belong to that person.

At least one of the 'customers' has ordered, then attempted to cancel, and the company said cancelling was impossible because the order had already shipped, which made us think that this was the scam. However, a little snooping (because we had the customer's name and address) showed that it was a real address and said customer's name is tied to the property record for the address -- in short, seems like the worst way to execute a scam of some sort using your real contact information.

My friend has been closely monitoring his credit reports and accounts. There is no evidence that any of these people have access to any real information to attempt some kind of identity theft.

So, this is why I am here. Apart from getting some annoying emails that aren't really for him, given the scenario I laid out above, is there any risk to my friend that we're overlooking? As I wrote in the title, it feels very scammy in some way, but we just don't understand how simply directing emails to a different account allows anything untoward to occur.

I would appreciate any thoughts this community has here and thanks in advance.

p.s. The email he's using is two common-ish words on a fairly ubiquitous service, and well, I think we all have a throw-away email when a web form requires something (I hereby publicly apologize if I have been doing this same annoyance to a real person at over@yonder.com). Just moving emails would be a significant hassle as he has had this same one for 15+ years now. Furthermore, as above, it is not just spam going to the email, but what appears to be mostly legitimate business -- just initiated by someone else using his email.

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    FWIW the same thing has happened to me, although at a slower rate.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jun 7 at 14:51
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    There is a Mike Harvey in Florida, and I used to know all about his videos rentals and a loan he tookout to buy furniture. Jun 7 at 14:53
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    I think I had a similar experience - money.stackexchange.com/questions/110531/… . My circumstances are similar to your friend in that the emails were for someone with a similar or same name on a major email service. My brother has received similar messages with FIRSTINITIAL.MIDDLEINITIAL.LASTNAME for completely different people. The common cause seems to be people not actually knowing their own email address or it being transcribed improperly.
    – Freiheit
    Jun 7 at 15:49
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    Are you sure it is different people using the same email address, or at least, someone pretending to have different names using the same email address?
    – TTT
    Jun 7 at 18:04
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    @R.Hamilton Agreed! However, at least in the case of insurance quotes, many of those systems request an email, and after you provide it, they show you the quotes on the page. (The email requirement turns out to be just for their own marketing purposes.) So what matters is whether the person thinks the email is actually going to be used, instead of whether or not it actually is used. I suppose many could fall into that category, but perhaps not all. For requesting tickets via email, that seems pretty obvious that you would need access to the email account, I think.
    – TTT
    Jun 7 at 18:35
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It could be a mistaken email address, it could be a scam attempt: without studying the emails in more detail it would be difficult to tell with any certainty.

If it is an attempted scam, the two common techniques are (a) include an infected attachment ("Thank you for your order of $1,232. Open the attached invoice for full details."), or (b) try to direct you to a fake website to get you to enter personal details ("Your order for $1,232 is being processed. Visit scammer.example.com if you need to amend or cancel."). Of course, the true destination would be disguised to look "real".

Therefore, whatever else your friend does, they should not open any attachments, and not follow any links in the emails. If they were to follow-up in any way, they should find independent ways of contacting the companies that apparently sent the emails.


Regarding:

However, a little snooping (because we had the customer's name and address) showed that it was a real address and said customer's name is tied to the property record for the address -- in short, seems like the worst way to execute a scam of some sort using your real contact information.

If it is a scam, the address wouldn't be that of the scammers (unless they were very stupid). They would pick a random real address (very possibly an earlier victim) so that if anyone does do some digging, it will look legitimate, thus increasing the chance that the recipient will open an attachment or follow a phoney link.


From a comment:

however why would one do that if one were to request insurance quotes? Or asking for tickets to be emailed to you? Or make an online order and I would assume expect the tracking information to be mailed to you when your order ships? Why give out a fake email address when one can more than reasonably assume that one will be contacted and given useful/requested information via email? This is what has us baffled.

If these are genuine emails from the companies they purport to come from, then as TTT says in a comment, then – for things like insurance quotes, at least – people might give a false email address just so that they're not added to a marketing database just for making an inquiry. (But, as you point out, there are many cases where using a false email address doesn't make sense).

However, if they are some kind of scam email, this doesn't matter. It's almost certain that the emails won't be coming from the companies they appear to... it won't be a scammer trying to place an order with Walmart using your friend's email address and trying to scam either them or Walmart. Instead, it will be a scammer sending fake emails that look like they come from Walmart etc., in the hope that the recipient will open an attachment or follow a link.

My personal inclination, based on what's in the question, would be to just delete and ignore the emails.

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  • There aren't any attachments to the emails, the emails are orders and correspondence from real companies. We're talking WalMart, Lowe's, and similar. Someone is placing orders with these companies, with valid cc numbers and addresses and the like. Just using my friend's email address. It does appear that at least twice now, said someone has tried to cancel the order right after it was processed, but the company said it was too late as the parcel was already on its way. But then I'm back to real names and addresses -- again, seems a really poor way to orchestrate a scam. Jun 8 at 13:19
  • @R.Hamilton As I said, it's entirely possible these emails aren't scams. I was simply pointing out one reason why they might use real names/addresses if they were scams. Also, just because the emails appear to come from Walmart etc. doesn't mean they actually did.
    – TripeHound
    Jun 8 at 14:11
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I think the issue might be that your friend has an email that is very close to other peoples' and it is being misspelled when those people enter their email addresses.

This doesn't sound like a scam of any kind, or anything untoward. Just a common honest mistake.

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  • This is a possibility, but without disclosing his actual email address, I would find this unlikely. Not impossible. Just doesn't seem probably given his email address and the frequency. Jun 8 at 13:16

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