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There is a recruiter database somewhere that has an outdated email for me. The problem is I'm trans, and my old email outs my trans status and my deadname (because of the first-name.last-name email format).

I keep receiving many recruiter emails there lately, which means whichever contact database company they're using is outing me to dozens of company without my consent (it's very obvious from the name discrepency).

The problem is I can't find out which company it is. Every time I reply to one of those recruiters asking them where they got my email and/or if they can ask the database they got it from to update my info, they never reply. The best I got is someone telling me they "got it from a contact database".

This is a big problem for me because being outed as trans and having such personal info revealed without my consent at the very first point of contact with a company makes me not even want to consider their job offers.

I have also tried mentioning GDPR to them (not sure if it has any legal value in this context?) as I'm in Europe.

I have no idea how to fix this situation and don't know even know if this is the best place to ask for help about it, but it is workplace related. I am looking for any advice on how to deal with recruiters or contact databases selling out your personal information and how to get them to update it or delete it in this context.

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    No. I'm receiving emails from recruiters from various companies, they're finding my data from some contact database and I haven't been able to find out which one. I'm pretty sure this is data that has been harvested from years ago back when this was still my email and isn't up to date. But I've never consented to my email being sold to recruiters Jun 26, 2021 at 9:23
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    Delete or block the e-mail account. If it keeps bouncing back it will eventually disappear.
    – Hilmar
    Jun 26, 2021 at 11:34
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    If it shouldn't be associated with your new name, how are you getting the wrongly-addressed emails? Why is the address still active, if you don't want it used? (I must have missed something: what have I misunderstood?) Jun 26, 2021 at 13:14
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    @AndrewLeach Have you never had old friends or colleagues reach out to you on an account years later? That's why you keep old accounts active, so they can reach you if needed. Jun 26, 2021 at 14:36
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    Have you tried to request all PII data the company holds on you under GDPR? As far as I know they are by law forced to comply, if they don’t or hides where they got it from you might have a legal case.
    – lijat
    Jun 27, 2021 at 10:23

5 Answers 5

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how can I find out which company is selling it?

You can't unless you have a personal contact that knows who you can ask. There may be multiple companies selling it.

You shouldn't even answer all that does is confirm it's a real email address.

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    +1 The worst thing you can do is reply. It just confirms that email address is still in use. Jun 26, 2021 at 18:13
  • Does it really matter though? I assume the recruiters wouldn't go back and correct the service they're using either way. Though I don't really know how those contact info services work Jun 29, 2021 at 9:28
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    @eUVfhTjTbJCcAK they may do nothing or they may delete it from their database if they think it's not a real address. Enough bounces and their mail could be blacklisted as a spammer which can really interfere with their business (spamming). In fact if possible it's sometimes a good idea to report them as spam.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 29, 2021 at 10:13
  • I do think the no-reply solution is the best. An alternative solution would be to set an automatic email stating that the email is no longer used (but this could be interpreted to mean that the email is still in use).
    – zmike
    Jun 29, 2021 at 19:11
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I had a similar (but less personal) version of this problem for a while, because I once made the mistake of using my throwaway email address for a question on a professional forum that turned out to keep real names attached. I also keep a minimal online presence under my real name in general. So if you googled my name, those forum results typically came up in the top 10 results. I didn't want recruiters using that email because it's not professional, it's not one I do business from, and I generally don't want it associated with my real name.

It's unlikely you'll be able to get a straight and honest answer from recruiters about where they got your old email address. Aside from the fact that many recruiters guard their prospects jealously, there are many reasons why they themselves might not know. And even if they do, and are willing to tell you, it may be a company or system you cannot compel to change. Instead of trying to figure out the source of the misinformation, you'll likely have more luck with correcting the recruiters and letting those corrections trickle backward into the shadow networks of the data brokers.

To that end, what worked for me was a two-pronged approach of gently redirecting the recruiters themselves, while also working to find and remove places where the wrong email was associated with my real name online.

First, if the recruiter wasn't someone I was interested in speaking with, I'd just ignore the email altogether. This encourages recruiters to mark that email as nonfunctional in their systems, without burning bridges.

If it was someone I did want to talk to, I'd wait a while (2-4 weeks depending on urgency), then forward their email to my professional email and reply to their message from my professional email. The replies usually went like, "Hi, thanks for reaching out to me, and sorry for the delay in responding. Your original message went to an old email I do not use and rarely check. The best way to reach me is via this email address, [[email protected]]. Please direct all future communications here."

Meanwhile, I would periodically run a google search of my real name, and look for any results that linked my name back to that junk email address. In my case, the only place it was linked was in that forum, so I sent multiple requests to the forum owners to remove my name and email address from the messages in their archives.

Over the same time period, while not directly related to fixing the email address problem, I was beefing up my online presence under my real name, so that even if the forum results hadn't been cleaned up, they weren't the first things that came up when people searched for me. So I'd also recommend you find ways to beef up your online presence under your current name, so that when recruiters search for you, they find up-to-date information first.

While this approach doesn't directly address the issue of you being outed to recruiters, I'd gently suggest that that may not actually be what's happening. I'm a hiring manager, and I've seen many cases where a person's email doesn't match the name on the resume, even if the email address is clearly in firstname.lastname format. My first guess would be that you have a shared email with a partner, or that you may be from a culture where people have and use multiple different "official" names. Many systems even fill in the email field automatically, so the recruiters may not even see the email address. As long as they address you with your current name and correct pronouns, it's unlikely that you're being outed. (I'm not trans and I may be missing a great deal of the nuance of this situation, so please feel enormously free to ignore this. I just hope it might bring you some comfort to hear that your old email address may not be as revealing as it feels.)

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    That makes sense, burning bridges is a problem when trying to ask them where they got the email from, so far I've been ignoring all job offers on the wrong email because I don't want to start at a disadvantage anyway. Sadly, I've used all the methods I could to find my old email with my new name on search engines or job sites and it's absolutely nowhere. I think it's in one of those contact databases that recruiters pay to use, but I can't pay all of them just in the hope I find which one it is. Jun 29, 2021 at 9:26
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    "And even if they do, and are willing to tell you, it may be a company or system you cannot compel to change." A lawsuit might work, depending on where you live. You just need to find out who you need to sue, first.
    – nick012000
    Jun 29, 2021 at 9:46
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    @eUVfhTjTbJCcAK It may be in a contact database, but if it is, then the best way to get it fixed is to correct the recruiters the way I did. They update that info on their own and let it trickle back through the system, whereas you're unlikely to be able to track down the owner of the "source" db on your own or force them to change it.
    – thatgirldm
    Jun 29, 2021 at 16:30
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One solution would be to send back a fake bounce email every time you receive such a message.

Unfortunately, most email providers do not provide such a service.

If you've got gmail for instance, you need to pay a separate 3rd party $49 a year (or $5 a month) for this functionality.

  1. In Gmail, open the email you want to bounce

  2. Click the Block button

  3. Select the “Reply with…” option

  4. Make sure “Fake Bounce-Back” is selected in the dropdown that pops up

  5. Click “Send response”

https://help.blocksender.io/how-to-bounce-back-emails

Once you send such a bounce back, it will send a bounce back every time it receives an email from the same address.

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Consider talking to a lawyer.

If you could manage to subpoena the companies sending you these emails, you'd be able to find out where they got it from, since they would be legally forced to reveal it. Whether or not this would be possible in your particular circumstances might vary based on your location, so I would suggest talking to a lawyer about it. You may or may not have standing to sue whoever has been distributing your details without your consent.

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    I'm in the UK so I've been assuming GDPR should legally force them to reveal that info and/or correct it for me, though I'm not sure. Jun 29, 2021 at 9:29
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    @eUVfhTjTbJCcAK GDPR, defamation, emotional injury, there's a bunch of reasons you could potentially sue. A lawyer would be able to advice you on what would work in your area.
    – nick012000
    Jun 29, 2021 at 11:15
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Other answers have looked at how to get off the list. I'll consider what to do about a specific recruiter. Advice is from the perspective of a cis man who has worked with various recruiters.

Recruiters like this work on volume, especially those who are willing to buy a questionable email list. They bulk-email, and only bother to actually look at those people who respond. That's one reason that if you respond to them with an email that doesn't indicate that you're interested in their job, then they will just delete your response and move on to the next person.

In your case this lack of attention is actually an advantage. Although they have emailed your dead name, it sounds like that's the only name they know you by. They have not made a connection between your dead name and your new name. If the recruiter is an agency, then they are unlikely to have sent your dead name resume to their client.

At this point ask yourself if you're interested in the job.

If you are not interested in it, then just delete the email as you would any other spam email.

If you are interested in the job, then you do not want the recruiter to make that connection. The simplest strategy at this point is to contact the recruiter on spec using your new name. Give them your resume and describe the type of role you're looking for. Most likely, they will send you some appropriate adverts and you can take things from there. It's possible that they will notice the similarity in work experience between the two candidates, but given the number of candidates they look at I think it's unlikely. If they do notice then they might think you were a colleague of dead name, so be prepared with an answer that moves the conversation along without revealing too much or being untrue.

Even better - don't respond to recruiter spam at all. Pro-actively look for roles or recruiters who haven't bought a list of email addresses.

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