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Background

My company uses long and short emails, where the short emails are (most often) <initials>@<domain> and the long emails are <first name>(.<middle name>).<surname>@<domain>.

The Issue

I have a colleague who has the same initials as I do, but a different short email. He works in a different part of the organization, working with subjects I may possess little, or maybe some peripheral knowledge of. He enrolls my email to a lot of mailing lists, and sometimes with some sales people writing mails to me, trying to promote items.

My actions so far

I contacted him and asked him if I should forward them to him, or inform him that they were writing to my email trying to contact him, to which he answered "No. Just forward them if it seems important." Since then I have clicked many unsubscribe links. But it keeps happening.

I want to stress that I currently do not believe that he is doing it purposefully. The thought that he uses my email when he has to get something free has crossed my mind, but I choose to be optimistic that he is not doing it on purpose.

My thoughts on a solution

I have considered setting up an outlook filter to move mails addressed to him to a sub folder, but that is not feasible, because 1. I may catch something that is actually of importance to me where someone with the same first name as him is in the correspondence and 2. not all the newsletters include names (leading me to think "did I subscribe to this").

I don't think contacting him again is going to help much (since he seems to think his time is more precious than mine), and I don't think this warrants escalation to my manager/HR as of yet.

What other avenues of tackling this are there? Should I set up a template and forward each mail with a "please remember to use your own email" message? or Should I just accept that this is not going to change and keep unsubscribing?

Updates:

  1. The reason I write is that apparently some of those mailing lists only "pretend" to unsubscribe me, but keep spamming me. I am very conscious that data miners would try to guess emails, and I double check all links to ensure that I am not clicking spearphishing links.

  2. I have considered informing my immediate manager of this as a "potential conflict" so that he is aware, if I for some reason unintentionally piss off

  3. Regarding reassignment: I was assigned this email in 2002, and it was reserved even through a many year absence, until I was re-hired, and reassigned the same email. We have a LOT of systems where I use just the three letters (which are by chance my initials) to log in. I doubt they would reassign a new short email to me - they don't do it for people changing surnames either ( the long email does change though).

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  • 16
    Are you sure that he's actually signing up for these things? I routinely get email (usually caught by my company's spam filters) that are addressed to me (by email and sometimes by name in the body of the email) that have nothing to do with my job function. There's no one else with my name currently at the company. I suspect that because company emails are well-formatted, companies wishing to advertise can automatically find valid company emails, sometimes using public profiles to get names and other data. Sep 11, 2023 at 12:58
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    Ask for another short email and give the one you have to him Sep 11, 2023 at 22:44
  • 6
    All 3-letter email addresses are likely to be used by spammers without even knowing whether they exist. Sep 11, 2023 at 23:03
  • 39
    Did you ask him why he is using your address instead of his own? What's the response?
    – puck
    Sep 12, 2023 at 4:13
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    "No. Just forward them if it seems important." << And you agreed to that? I'm tempted to enroll you to mailing lists for me, I'd also like someone screening important emails for me for free ;-)
    – Stef
    Sep 12, 2023 at 18:01

11 Answers 11

74

In contrast to the answers already given, I would suggest a very firm approach from the perspective of one who had to defend his company e-mail address from spam for over 35 years.

First: This colleague must not enter your address anywhere, ever. It's not his address, he doesn't have the right to use it for these purposes. It's possible that he made an honest mistake, but it's his responsibility to clean up, not yours. In particular, he can't expect you to assume an assistant role by forwarding and filtering those e-mails.

Second: unsolicited e-mail is spam and should be handled as such. If you did not opt in, you're not required to treat it with any consideration. Report it as spam, escalate to your IT department to install filters for companies that don't do proper opt-in, set up your mail client to discard those unwanted mails.

After your colleague has been requested to stop using your address, he needs to ensure that it never happens again, for example by only using his long-form address for subscriptions. If he still does it, that needs to be escalated swiftly. It's not your fault, you should not feel bad about it.

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    Honestly, this is the correct approach. At this point, it is no longer OP's concern if they receive important email for him. He was made aware of the problem and he took no steps to fix it. It's not OP's job to be his secretary, so what happens from that point forward is not OP's fault. The only thing I would add is OP should inform him of the decision in an email CC'd to the manager just in case an issue does arise where colleague doesn't change and ends up missing an important email, so OP has the warning in writing to defend themselves with.
    – Abion47
    Sep 13, 2023 at 16:43
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    OP: Don't rule out the possibility that this is some kind of long-game scam or psy op, and that this person is deliberately taking your identity in small pieces in order to orchestrate some larger scheme at a future date. Responding with "just forward them if it seems important" plus the attitude you describe (acting as if his time is more important than yours) could also be red flags. Some people are just sociopaths and get off on seeing how much they can get away with. If something feels not quite right, pay attention to your gut feeling. Take precautions, escalate, document everything.
    – Mentalist
    Sep 14, 2023 at 5:51
  • @Mentalist I mean... hearing 'just forward them if it seems important' would tell me the person really just doesn't give two f... erhm, I mean a second thought to the matter. Your assumption seems a bit far-fetched
    – crizzis
    Sep 14, 2023 at 21:28
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    @crizzis all security measures sound paranoid to most people - until you wish you would have had them in place. The point here is, even if the colleague wouldn't be scheming anything currently, mixing up contacts can be an easy entrance door if they ever feel they need to screw OP over or for someone else using the fact that some client has the wrong contact; it can confuse a separate security situation or investigation later on etc. And if the other guy was involved in a psyop, then of course they wouldn't signal that with red flags and make it seem like nothing^^. Sep 16, 2023 at 14:15
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    @crizzis main point being there is a myriad of small potentials that just fly in the face of multiple interests of both OP and the company - of course depending on the job and the company with different probabilities and potential risks attached to them Sep 16, 2023 at 14:16
47

Existing answers have provided the general idea that you should set up templates and ignore the emails moving forward (and you should set up Outlook to sort/filter your emails anyway, if not, as my boss says, 'Why not?'). But as someone pointed out, this will not resolve the root problem that his mistake is negatively affecting you, and he may continue to make the same mistake. Since he has burdened you with the responsibility of 'YOU forward it to me if important,' if there are actually some important emails intended for him and not forwarded, there is a slight chance he'll complain and place the blame on you.

Simply tell him:

FYI, since my inbox is spammed with emails I didn't sign up for, and it's distracting me from my work-related emails, I've set up my Outlook to filter those emails to an unmonitored folder [or delete all of them]. Please use your own email if you don't want to miss important emails.

Having your inbox, especially your work inbox, flooded with unsolicited emails disrupts and distracts you from actual important work-related emails, which should provide you with good enough grounds to be firm yet polite.

There's no need to ask him to do anything; proactively take your action, inform him of your action, and remove yourself from any potential blame. And you are not putting any blame on him either, just doing what's good for you.

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    I have considered informing my manager of this potential conflict, asking him not to escalate it, but just so that he is aware of the situation, in case it becomes a bigger nuisance, and doing something like this.
    – JoSSte
    Sep 11, 2023 at 19:06
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    @JoSSte You can do that on a CC email, with the colleague and your manager in the email. This way, you have a backup of evidence that you sent an email to this specific person. And pay attention: DO NOT USE BCC - use CC for this email. Sep 12, 2023 at 0:20
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    Sadly filtering is becoming harder and harder as senders put the groups in BCC. Now you don't know anymore which group the email was sent to, and this makes filtering harder.
    – Anemoia
    Sep 12, 2023 at 5:35
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    @Anemoia why would that matter? When do you filter by "group"? I mean sure, if you know there's a group that is spam, that would indeed make for easy filtering, but I cannot think of any situation where that would be the case. You can still filter based on who it was sent to, which email, whether you were BCCed or CCed or anything, so it shouldn't really matter.
    – terdon
    Sep 12, 2023 at 7:50
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    @Anemoia, lists usually set list-id or another email header to identify themselves. So you can use filtering by custom headers in such cases. The bcc problem is bigger. Sounds like lack of internet etiquette in your company. I found useful in the past to filter also based on the to and cc fields. e.g. if I'm not there, then allow email to flow into mailing list folders or get gone altogether. Nowadays I look at email just as another chat system where missing a message here and there is expected. Sep 12, 2023 at 17:54
15

When in doubt, assume honest intentions. Congratulations for taking the correct first step and not to dump the accusation on them blindly.

That said, you also do not need to act as a personal assistant for them. Use the email filters as you mentioned, and (when the mails arrive) do not even bother forwarding, just clean up that specific directory in regular interval.

You can setup an exception that if any email arrives from any of your known / trusted contacts, do not move to that specific directory and leave it in inbox for you to read - win-win. You can update your trusted sender list, as needed (if you're not doing that already).

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    I think you need to take one more step. Tell the colleague that you are not going to forward on those emails, and also give them a fixed timeline after which you will start to remove yourself from those mailing lists. Without such a step there can't be any change in the situation.
    – Peter M
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:25
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    @PeterM How do you suggest it will add the value, since what you mentioned has already been communicated to the colleague and they're OK for OP to delete them anyways (if they would have valued some communication, they would not rely on someone else to forward that piece of info, IMHO). Sep 11, 2023 at 13:33
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    The colleague stating "No. Just forward them if it seems important." keeps the issue focussed on the OP, and does not change the colleague's behavior. Explicitly telling the colleague that the OP will no longer play that colleague's games (and following through with that) is the only way to hope to change that behavior.
    – Peter M
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:44
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    OK, that's one way, I was rather thinking, not to bother about that, and do not even bother to do that - I do not know whether they provided the email or not (by mistake or purposefully), and I'm under no obligation to cater to them - so I'd love to do the cleanup myself, without any need to have them involved. Either of these can work, it's mostly about choice. Sep 11, 2023 at 13:48
8

Should I set up a template and forward each mail with a "please remember to use your own email" message?

That would be my option after that persons response in tone of "I won't fix it, but keep filtering my emails for me". But then I can be petty and don't mind showing it from time to time to drive a point across.

But if you don't have that in you, you have to decide how much does it bother you, and do you want to action it at all. It may be that setting up the filters and ignoring the problem is the best path forward, although then you may miss out on some of your emails, and some spam will still get through - filters are not perfect.

Worst yet, some of the stuff that gets filtered out will turn out to be important, and then someone may be angry at you for not reading your work emails. Not that far fetched of a situation.

So if you would rather resolve it, either give the person last final chance to resolve it, be firm and tell them that if it will continue, you will rasie it further with boss/hr/whatever, and then if it continues do exactly that. Do so by email, create some paper trail if you didn't yet.

Then if it escaletes you can explain then that the above is exactly your worry - due to the big inbox of spam you may miss actually important work related emails, and while you tried to get the colleague to be more careful, he said quite firmly that he won't do such thing. Simple and to the point.

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  • I would think it prudent to identify the coworkers boss and copy his boss (as well as OP's own) on the email asking coworker to stop. Then, given a few weeks with no response and no reduction in email, reply all to that message and inform him that, "I've set up rules to forward all these messages to you." and include his boss in the CC of the forward. That way it annoys him and his boss. Yes, this is petty, but if the coworker can't be bothered to "remember" the right email address and thinks the OP is his secretary, then his boss should handle the situation.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 12, 2023 at 15:37
  • As long as the coworker doesn't care, he, well, doesn't care. Forwarding them ALL to him makes him care and take care of the emails. No need to be agressive or sth, but if that don't reduce the spam a lot over the next 2 weeks, inform the manager. The typical "cc your manager instantly for everything" only annoyes your manager if you do it with everything that bothers you. Sep 13, 2023 at 13:58
8

I have been suffering from this exact problem for many years with my personal email address. There are several people around the world that have email addresses extremely similar to mine (typically with a number appended to the end), and they constantly use my address to sign up for things. Here are some lessons that I've learned from my experience.

  • Asking the person to stop is unlikely to make much difference. Repeatedly typing the wrong email address (and not noticing the problem) is generally correlated with a low level of technical proficiency and a lack of proofreading effort. It's quite likely that they've saved their contact information in their browser and your address is being auto-completed into forms. Asking them to fix this is likely beyond their ability level. You know exactly who the culprit is, however, so you may be able to walk over to their desk and show them how to turn off auto-complete and disable the saving of form data. Perhaps even show them how to use temporary email services like minuteinbox.com.
  • It's tempting to be helpful and do things like forward important messages, but avoid that temptation. You'll end up encouraging more of the unwanted behavior. Delete/filter out/block the unwanted messages and don't even waste time reading them. One of my "email twins" only stopped typing my address after he missed an important-looking job interview because he gave the employer the wrong contact information (the job's requirements included "good attention to detail" so I didn't feel too bad about it). The culprit won't put forth the effort required to do it correctly if you're being a human spam filter for free.
  • Reputable mailing lists, etc. will generally confirm your email address before adding you to the list. That means any mail you get for this other person is from someone who didn't even care whether the email address was correct or not. That's a giant hint that it's not likely to be worth reading. Delete/filter/block with extreme prejudice.
  • If any of these unwanted messages come from lists hosted by a professional mailing list company like Constant Contact or Mailchimp (check for logos near the bottom), it's probably worth trying the "unsubscribe" link. Those generally work, plus after you unsubscribe they tend to ask you why you did so. Answering with "I never signed up for this list" or "this should be reported as spam" provides feedback for the list owner that they need to do a better job confirming addresses before use lest they run afoul of anti-spam laws.
  • If you're getting direct emails (from a person/office, not from a list), it usually suffices to reply with something like "I believe you sent this to the wrong email address, please remove this address from your records". People sending direct emails typically have a genuine desire to communicate with that specific person so they're likely to comply with the request. In my experiences, the success rate here is far higher than an "unsubscribe" link on a mailing list.
  • When it comes to filtering, I actually have two types of filter. One will locate things that are easily identifiable as "not for me" and move them directly to the trash. This filter does not generate false positives, but misses some things. The second filter type looks at what's left over and moves potential spam to a "maybe" folder. I'll check the "maybe" folder periodically to ensure nothing in there was actually intended for me. That seems to be a good balance between minimizing the time required to manage spam while minimizing the chances of deleting something that I needed to read.
  • Ask your IT department about deploying a "flag as spam" button/plugin for your email client. The truly worthless junk should be getting filtered out before it ever hits your inbox, regardless of whether it's sent to the right person.

You mentioned that you didn't really want to escalate this, but I'll tack a big caveat onto that thought. If you ever get emails that contain the other person's medical/personal/financial information, or company information that you wouldn't normally have access to, then you definitely need to escalate the issue. Those sorts of things could create complicated situations with respect to privacy laws and internal company controls. That's precisely the sort of situation where management or HR should step in before someone gets themself in trouble.

I would recommend having a chat with your manager about it. There's a non-zero chance that the other guy could use your address in a way that causes problems with the IT department (such as signing up for a shady list that sends out phishing links). You don't want that sort of thing being attributed to you. Your manager may advise you to escalate the issue.

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    One of the senders is Redhat - so I actually pondered on the fact that they 1. don't check the email address and 2. ignore clicks on unsubscribe.
    – JoSSte
    Sep 12, 2023 at 17:46
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    @JoSSte If it's a US sender like that, you can fill out a report form with the FTC for violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. The more reports they get for a particular sender, the more likely they are to start an enforcement action (which can include hefty fines).
    – bta
    Sep 12, 2023 at 18:06
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    I'll try asking them if someone is re-enrolling my email first... they actually supply my company, so I might be able to find someone with an internal contact...
    – JoSSte
    Sep 12, 2023 at 18:09
4

Best if it becomes someone elses problem.

I would forward each message to the colleague cc'ing the manager. It shouldn't take long for them to do something about it.

You're not being employed to filter their mail for them.

I had a situation once where a former colleague emailed me repeatedly with a bunch of filth and swear words. I just forwarded them all to his CEO and he soon stopped.

3

The thought that he uses my email when he has to get something free has crossed my mind, but I choose to be optimistic that he is not doing it on purpose.

This would only work if there was no requirement to confirm the email. Putting the wrong email address make it impossible for them to get code they are sending to the email, or replying from that email.

What other avenues of tackling this are there? Should I set up a template and forward each mail with a "please remember to use your own email" message? or Should I just accept that this is not going to change and keep unsubscribing?

The goal should be to stop using your short email address.:

  • Unsubscribe from newsletters you don't want. There is no need to tell your coworker, because you have already done so.
  • If there are ones you want to keep, change the registration email to your full email. Do this for all the newsletters you know you signed-up for, and any newsletters you aren't sure about but want to keep receiving.
  • Stop using the short email address, only use the full address.
  • Setup a filter to move all emails that use the short address to a folder.
  • Over time process the emails caught by the filer to reduce and them eliminate the use of the short address. If they are meant for you coworker send an email to the customer and the coworker correcting the situation. If they are meant for you, start using on the full address.
  • Eventually the number of messages to the short address will essentially stop.
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    Why should that eventually stop if the colleague keeps subscribing to unwanted stuff using this mail address?
    – puck
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:04
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    The goal is to stop using the short email address entirely. Switch all legitimate uses, Unsubscribe all unwanted things, then the only thing left is the stuff the coworker is incorrectly using. They will eventually learn. The company should start moving away from the short addresses. Sep 11, 2023 at 17:48
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    @mhoran_psprep The reason I write is that apparently some of those mailinglists only "pretend" to unsubscribe me, but keep spamming me. I am very concious that data miners would try to guess emails.
    – JoSSte
    Sep 11, 2023 at 19:03
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    @JoSSte They're not spamming you; they're spamming the short email address. If you can disconnect yourself from that address, then it will no longer be your problem.
    – gidds
    Sep 11, 2023 at 22:23
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    So just because this inconsiderate colleague is lazy, the OP needs to change their entire email habits and lose access to a perfectly good email address? This doesn't seem reasonable. This is not acceptable behavior on the part of the colleague and should not be normalized.
    – terdon
    Sep 12, 2023 at 7:45
2

You need to have another conversation with them, and this time be firm. What they are doing is not OK, we have enough spam as it is without random colleagues blithely adding us to mailing lists! So go back, speak to them, and say something like:

Hi, $name, I want to talk to you about this email thing. I know you're not doing it on purpose, but this needs to stop. Please be more careful, make sure to use your own email and stop adding my mail to these lists. That just causes me to receive spam.

If that doesn't work, you should absolutely escalate to your manager, yes. This is not your problem to solve, you shouldn't be required to spend time devising email filters to control someone else's spam. And certainly never forward anything! That just makes this entire thing worth it for your colleague: you get the spam, you put in the work to identify the useful ones, and all they have to do is read your emails! So you are essentially working as this person's secretary, screening their emails for them because they are too lazy to use the right email (at best) or are doing this on purpose to fob it off on you (at worst).

The longer you leave it, the worse it is going to get so you need to be firm and escalate to management if it continues.

2

I would go to IT and ask if they could change my work email address/account name, because it is confusingly similar to a coworker's address and you keep getting subscribed to email lists accidentally. Almost everywhere has procedures for having email addresses/account names which differ from the standard algorithm, to cope with multiple employees having matching names, addresses that get burned by some external events, or unsavory algorithm-generated addresses/names.

1

Annoying: unless you can get the other guy to change his behavior, whether deliberate or not, the utility of the short email address for you is greatly reduced. Moreover, not just the other guys behavior, but other people who already think they are sending email to the other guy.

Unless you can get the other guy and his other people to change their behavior (good luck), there are some steps you can take on your own - if the utility of the short email address has been reduced so much that it is almost worthless

Stop using the short email address yourself. Tell all of your correspondents to use the long email address. ... as follows:

Set up email rules that filter email to the short email address, and save them to a folder that you will not normally check.

In an ideal world, that rule would also reply to the sender saying "Please don't use this short email address, since it frequently gets sent to the wrong person who has the same initials. Please use the long email address..."

In an ideal world you might also list the long email addresses so that the sender can figure out who to send to.

Unfortunately the world is not ideal and is full of spammers. You do not want to send valid email addresses back to a spammer, and for that matter you probably don't want to confirm that the email was received to a spammer.

But it is probably OK to send such a reply if the email was received from somebody inside your company.

Definitely do not delete the email, because you or the other guy might need to look at it at some point. Saving it into a folder without you having to look at it gives you that possibility.


You mentioned Outlook. Your company may also be using a Microsoft Exchange server. Or for that matter some other directory server like LDAP. If there is any such directory server you should definitely update your entry to indicate that only the long address should be used. You may be able to do it yourself, or you may have to ask your IT department.

For that matter, some email systems and some unsophisticated email users may not know how to specify the long versus short email address. They might only type in your human readable name. If that is always being mapped to the short email address, you are out of luck unless you can get your IT department to make it map to the long email address.

-2

Snarky solution:

He asked you to forward the (important) emails on to him. So, set an auto-forward on your shorthand email to forward all email to his email (until you have time to develop a filter on your end to only forward the important ones along). Then ask him to kindly read those emails and forward any that seem important back to you. Of course, you'll want to archive those forwarded emails too, in case your colleague is not very good at screening your email.

This will solve the problem nicely!

1
  • That WOULD be snarky, and some would call it harassment... I should have done that much sooner for it to seem innocent
    – JoSSte
    Sep 13, 2023 at 19:38

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