Remember when Yahoo announced a plan last summer to recycle its inactive email accounts – and give some lucky customers their pick of previously unavailable user names? It’s had some problems, according to a report this week that said some new users are getting sensitive and sometimes intimate emails intended for the former account holders.
“The identity theft potential here is kind of crazy,” said Neil Jenkins, an IT worker quoted by reporter Kristin Burnham in her fascinating article for InformationWeek.
Jenkins jumped at the chance to claim a previously used email account that included his old high school nickname, according to Burnham. But soon after he was awarded the account, which was supposed to have been abandoned by its former user, Jenkins said he started receiving all kinds of emails intended for the person who had the account before him.
Here’s how Jenkins described it:
“I can gain access to their Pandora account, but I won’t. I can gain access to their Facebook account, but I won’t. I know their name, address and phone number. I know where their child goes to school, I know the last four digits of their social security number. I know they had an eye doctor’s appointment last week and I was just invited to their friend’s wedding.”
Burnham cites two other Yahoo mail users who had similar experiences, including a software executive who started receiving department store receipts and other financial statements containing the name and address of the person who previously held his “new” email account.
Yahoo’s plan for recycling those old accounts must have seemed like a great idea for an Internet company that’s eager to get consumers excited about its products again: Take those long-dormant user names and make them available to people who previously missed out in obtaining a popular name or nickname.
Still, the idea drew warnings from security experts as soon as it was announced last summer. Yahoo said it took several precautions, including leaving the accounts dormant for 30 days, during which it notified recent email senders that the account had been deactivated. The company also said it would work with businesses to prevent new users from receiving email intended for the former account-holders.
A Yahoo spokesman told InfoWeek that the company had heard complaints from “a very small number” of email-users, and that Yahoo is addressing the issue. ”We take the security and privacy of our users very seriously,” the spokesman said.
(Email screen image courtesy of Yahoo)