Probably Just a Coincidence… Right?

Minding my own business is a pain in the neck sometimes.  Five days ago, I got an email from Expedia.  This practice is not unusual because travel agencies, banks and retail outlets often send you email promotions without your consent, hoping you’ll never opt out.  But the part that made it unusual was that I’ve never used Expedia and apparently they had me down for four tickets to Spain.

Expedia Confirmation

Boogers!  What made the situation more curious was the fact this guy apparently has the same last name as me and a not too distant resemblance to my first name!  That doesn’t happen often.  After a quick double check of my recent credit card activity, I tried contacting Expedia.  They promised they would process my claim within 24 hours.  Next day, they helpfully told me I can delete my account anytime.  Thanks.  So reassured this was a blunder on “Hendrickson’s” part, I thought nothing of the matter until earlier this evening when I got another email:

Thank you for using redbox!

For those of you who don’t know, Redbox is a DVD rental kiosk often found at convenience stores and supermarkets.  But Owls of Ga’Hoole?!  Owls of Ga’Hoole?!  Parents.  Your children are never too young to watch films with plot development.  Or are you still waiting for Teletubbies the Movie?  Regardless this was the second time in a week my email address was used by somebody else.  I don’t like taking chances on coincidences.  It was time to figure out what was going on.

Restoring the Balance

Checking my credit card statements again, I reconfirmed they were still not compromised.  It’s a pretty sloppy criminal who charges your credit card then notifies you about it, but better to be safe than pwned.  Next I took a closer look at the Expedia account.  I clicked the “Forgot my Password” button and received a link to change my alleged password.  A couple clicks later and I searched through Hendrickson’s account for contact information.  There was no physical address but he had a cell phone listed from Trinidad.

I started my digging ready to cancel the trip and delete the account.  Easily the safest option for me even though Hendrickson’s family trip to NYC would be ruined and his money probably gone.  But a pang of sympathy hit me since this guy has the same last name as me.  So instead of scuttling the Expedia account I diverted it.

In a few minutes, I created a free Gmail account using Hendrickson’s first, middle and last names  Then I linked the Expedia account to that email address.  Finally I coughed up 44¢ and sent two text messages via Skype to Hendrickson’s cell phone. I explained briefly what happened and provided the new email account.  (Quick Tip: Skype sends text messages to cell phones anonymously if you don’t have a Skype phone number.) Hopefully Hendrickson gets my messages, thereby filling my Good Samaritan quota for the week.  As for the Redbox receipt, there’s nothing I can do short of mailing the receipt to the 7 Eleven where some unwatched rugrat rented the movie.  Life goes on.

Self Defense Tips

Botching an email address is common enough.  I am sure jsmith@hotmail and yahoo get flooded with letters misaddressed to them.  But pay an ounce of attention when you get a letter that isn’t yours.

  1. Think back.  If it’s possible you left yourself logged into a public computer take steps immediately to protect yourself.  Change passwords of accounts that may be compromised.
  2. If a purchase was made, watch your credit cards to make sure the charge doesn’t show up there.
  3. If you receive emails chronically from a vendor, try to divert the emails like I did or delete the account.  I stuck my neck out to help this guy because he has the same last name as me.  That’s hardly prudent but if you can’t count on possible family you don’t have much in this world.

I’ll keep my eye on things for another week to make sure there aren’t any unforeseen consequences.  But after realizing the Expedia reservation and the Redbox receipt came from two different countries I feel reasonably confident my email was never compromised and this was all a big coincidence.  Gmail’s become a pretty tough nut to crack and maybe I’ll cover that next time.

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