Verifying email addresses
Over at CircleID Aviram Jenik posts about using email addresses as identification and how that can go horribly wrong if the website does no verification. In his case, the problem is a user who has made a purchase using Aviram’s gmail address and Aviram now has access to the other users personal information. As he explains it:
Most of this misguided email ranges from boring to funny, but today I got a purchase confirmation with the order number, amount and last 4 digits of the CC number. Since I “own” the email that is associated with this account, what prevents me from logging in to this guy’s account (have the e-commerce site send the password to “my” email due to my temporary amnesia) and redirecting the order to another zip code that happens to be my house?
I have recently been going through a very similar situation. It appears that someone in the UK signed up at an address harvesting website with my email address. This Mr. Laura Corbishley gave win4now.co.uk full authority to sell my email address to all and sundry, and they have. Emailinform got my address first and has been sending me email “because [I] opted in at win4now.co.uk. In the process of trying to track down this spam, I did “recover” my password at win4now.co.uk and took over the account.
I am suspicious of the signup at win4now.co.uk for a couple reasons.
- “Mr.” Laura. Sure, it is possible someone missed a pulldown window. Possible but unlikely.
- The postal address is Solihull, Warwickshire. But, according to Royal Mail Solihull is no longer in Warwickshire for purposes of mail delivery. The correct address is West Midlands. Another possible error, but how many people do not know their snail mail address.
- I have never received any mail from win4now.co.uk. I have only received mail from emailinform.
I know this is fairly common, people sign up bad addresses at website, either maliciously or accidentally. Even more frustrating is the inability to contact a real human at win4now.
Fair enough. I sent email to their Privacy Officer. In the email I explained that one of their users had fraudulently used my email address to signup and I was now receiving spam. I requested that they remove my email address and notify everyone that they had sold my address to that there was no permission with that address and to remove it from their list as well.
Win4now sent me an email back that had the following at the very top:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please do not respond to this email, it is auto-generated and replies are not monitored.
- Q: I have a problem using my Win4now password
- Q: I do not want to receive any more new competition emails
- Q: I would like to update my details
- Q: I would like to unsubscribe from Win4Now
- Q: I am having problems viewing the website
- Q: I would like to know if I am a competition winner
None of those questions relate to privacy. At the bottom of the email there is another address I can send mail to, but at this point it is clear to me that win4now is exhibiting all the signs of spammers and scammers. They are avoiding email to privacy@, they do no form of confirmation not even a welcome message giving me the chance to inform them this registration is fraudulent, they are selling my address around but there is no way for me to stop them from doing that. I have gone in and changed the preferences on that account, but given win4now’s sloppy system I do not actually believe that will have an effect.
Thanks to some helpful folks over at a large ISP, I have been contacted by people at emailinform. They have unsubscribed me from their list. They are also looking into the address purchase. I am expecting they will return with some IP address “confirming” that I signed up at win4now and that therefore their mail is not spam.
Let me be clear, an IP address is not consent. It may help jog a memory, or remind a user they did sign up. In this case, however, I can categorically say this was not me as I always use tagged addresses to sign up for mail. Furthermore, I am not a UK resident and am not eligible for any benefits of the signup at win4now or the products being marketed by emailinform.
Both of these situations speak to the importance of any group collecting email addresses, for any reason, to incorporate some sort of confirmation into the signup process. While my preference is for positive confirmation (click here if this is you), even the bare minimum of negative confirmation (click here if this is not you) would have made win4now look slightly legitimate. As it is, they do not seem any different from any other spammers collecting email addresses and selling them to all and sundry.
My specific situation also speaks to the importance of being contactable by people. Do not make it hard for your recipients to contact a person inside your organization. These are your customers there is no reason to avoid them. The dodging and weaving looks suspiciously like you are a spammer.