Virgin Mobile Needs Non-Customer’s Personal Information To Stop Spamming her

Someone signed up for Virgin Mobile, and used Shadee’s e-mail address by accident. She doesn’t particularly want someone else’s phone bills, so she contacted Virgin Mobile asking to have the problem resolved. They answered with a demand for her personal information: name, mailing address, and her phone number. Why do they need all of this information when she wants to get off their mailing list, not on it? So she reached out and posted on Virgin Mobile’s Facebook wall. The interactions that followed prove that while companies can assign staff to social media, it can’t make them actually listen to consumers.

She began by posting this message to Virgin Mobile’s wall:

A stranger signed up for one of your services using my e-mail address so now I keep getting account/billing e-mails which aren’t meant for me. I responded to one of the e-mails, explaining the situation and asking to have my e-mail address removed from this stranger’s account but for some reason the rep doesn’t seem to understand the problem and keeps insisting that my personal information is required for “verification”. I’m not a customer so there’s nothing to verify. Someone just used a false e-mail address during sign up and it happened to be mine. Hope someone here can help. Can’t imagine the customer would be thrilled about me having access to their account info.

Fourteen minutes later (well done!) Virgin Mobile responds:

Hi Shadee, in order for us to access the account, we would need validation for the account. Please email our team at SaveMe@TheVirginAngels.com so we can assist you further. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Great response time, but not so much with the listening. Shadee sent along the e-mail, and posted the response she received to the Facebook wall:

Good Morning Shadee,

Can you please provide me with the requested information bellow so I can request that the email account is removed from the Virgin Mobile account?

Name:
Address:
City and State:
Zip:
Contact phone number:
Email Address to be removed:

Thanks,
[redacted]
Social Media Team

The ever-helpful Facebook rep responded:

Shadee, the information that we are requesting would be your own information, including the email address so we can forward this information to a different department. I apologize for any miscommunication

Yeah, we got that. The point is that she wants you to stop sending her things, not take down her information and send her more things. She wrote back:

I don’t understand why you need my personal information.
I’ve mentioned to the first rep that this person has been at this for quite a while now. With all sorts of different services, not just yours. I’m not interested in having a possible mix up, even if the chance is very slim, where this person somehow gets a hold of my personal information and gets a chance to harass me in real life as well.

I guess we’ll just have to leave it like it is then. Your customer’s sensitive information will be sent to me instead of them.

A different rep responded to her concern:

Hello Shadee, I’m sorry, but we’re required by law to have these measures in place to protect the information on all customer accounts. I’m sure this is frustrating, but we’re dedicated to the security and privacy of our customer accounts. The purpose of the Account PIN and Answer to Secret Question is to allow our customers to protect their accounts.

Again, that’s all very well and good, but has nothing to do with her original concern that she’s receiving someone else’s bills and wants them to go away. So she’s given up, writing a final note that read in part:

If after being made aware of the issue, your company is happy to continue to allow this customer’s private information to be e-mailed to a stranger every time they make changes to their account then that’s your choice. I mentioned in one of my first responses that having me mark all Virgin Mobile e-mails as spam simply isn’t the professional solution and that it would still become a problem again if I ever decided to purchase any of your services in the future but I don’t think that’s likely to happen now anyway.

Comments

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  1. scoutermac says:

    So they can spam her more?

  2. catskyfire says:

    I love the last line.

  3. SkokieGuy says:

    This sounds like a violation of the CanSpam act.

    Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.

    • wickedpixel says:

      CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply to transactional information, only marketing.

      • SkokieGuy says:

        Agreed, if you have a business relationship, the act does not apply.

        But since this woman is not a customer, this emails are unsolicited messages, so it would seem that it would apply.

        • cybrczch says:

          So they claim they need the information to determine that she is not the customer in question.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      My guess is that Virgin doesn’t see this as spam, since it’s account statements and account change notices for someone they do business with. They just can’t seem to figure out that they’re sending that information to the wrong person, certainly violating the SPIRIT of CAN SPAM if not the letter, and breaching their customer’s privacy as well.

    • Hartwig says:

      I am sure that their response would be that since their customer signed up with this email address and gave them permission to send this information they aren’t in violation of the CanSpam act. Though they are in violation because their customer provided inaccurate information to them. I am really surprised there is no opt out link in the email, even stuff i signed up for has that now.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        If the actual customer gave them her address, that is not a violation. But by then not accepting the person’s request for removal from the list IS a violation.

    • TBGBoodler says:

      She didn’t want to opt out and risk not getting important emails if she ever DID do business with Virgin Mobile. She wants her email address removed from that particular account so she’ll stop getting their bills, notifications, etc.

      But she’s decided that’s not likely to be a problem now; she won’t do business with them after this.

      This has happened to me with Sears. I start getting someone else’s e-receipts, notify Sears and they happily take my email address off the account. Unfortunately, it’s happened more than twice. The third time I just started marking it as spam. (I have a common name thta I use for a firstname.lastname gmail address)

  4. Coffee says:

    The same thing happened to be with U.S. Bank. I have a common name@gmail.com, and as such, I receive all sorts of shit addressed to people who can’t type well, including bank statements. When I called U.S. Bank about it, I was able to get confirmation that the account wasn’t one opened in my name (my chief concern), but there was a general shrug of the shoulders when it came to getting the statements to stop…that was up to the account holder.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    Call up Virgin Mobile and tell them you want to opt out of receiving bills by e-mail and want to start receiving paper copies through the mail again. She can also use a link through the e-mail and sign up for the most expensive plan they have along with extended warranty coverage. As soon as the current account holder sees their bill, they will call up Virgin Mobile and raise some holy H E double toothpicks.

    • mokie says:

      Since the individual using her email address appears to do this frequently, this might be the best way to fight back.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      I love this! If Virgin Mobile won’t help her, make the real account owner miserable! You are absolutely right. And chances are, the real account owner is complaining they’re not getting billing statements via email!!

  6. rlmiller007 says:

    I work for a phone company and it is a temination offense to give billing information about phone service. It is against the law. They are breaking the law by revealing the information. There should be more info on the FCC’s web site.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      If the original customer signed up giving the wrong info, then it is not Virgin Mobile’s problem and they would not be liable. That does happen sometimes.

      The problem is that Virgin Mobile CSRs are not trained to understand that “STOP sending email” is NOT a change of email address and does not create a risk of divulging personal information, does NOT engage the privacy law, and that they only need to verify that the person complaining is the person receiving the emails. They need to be trained to understand that it already is a privacy violation and they are being asked to STOP it.

      • BBBB says:

        I run into this often with my P.O. Box. An incorrect forwarding address was put into many databases and accounts.

        When I try to tell companies to stop sending info to the wrong I get the same “we need your info…” and then “we cannot discuss the account with you….”
        The tactic I use is to open with “You are sending a customer’s personal information to the wrong address – I don’t want any information from you – just contact them using other methods and try to get the correct address. About a third of the time someone understands and claims that they will try to do something about it.

  7. Hotscot says:

    Because of my handle…Hotscot…which I innocently chose years ago, because I’m, you know, Scottish…I occasionally get sent very explicit pictures from other men assuming it’s a gay thing. (I have no issues with gay people and it’s not me making the assumption.)

    Sometimes I reply that I’ll give their picture and email to my father as I’m too young to see these…

  8. CrazyEyed says:

    The OP could have just logged in with the account holders info and done it herself. After all, you usually need your email to verify account info. I’m assuming she may tried that already and ran into some other road blocks. It also appears the person who is using her email has done so in the past. If someone was continuing to sign up for services using my email address, I’d eventually get fed up and create a new one. Still doesn’t make it right.

  9. longfeltwant says:

    Two thoughts: first, I bet “Shadee” is short for that ever-beautiful name, popularized in a great television show, Shadynasty. Second: start posting all of that person’s bills and private information on your blog, and make sure to tweet each post to Virgin so they are absolutely aware of it. (For the first and maybe second time, black out the really private stuff.) They’ll fix the problem before they get sued over it.

    Also, if you have this person’s private info, then fricking call them and tell them to wise up! Sheesh!

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i was going to say, if they are sending her the person’s bills, there’s likely to be a phone number showing on the bills, since it’s a phone bill after all.

      • Galium says:

        It’s possible that the OP knows the person doing the email sign ups and does not want them to get in real trouble. Using a person email on all kinds of applications is harassment, which in most places is illegal. My guess an ex or relative.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          oh well at that point if i knew the correct email address i’d be tempted to sign up that person’s correct email address for all kinds of online coupon sites and store email flyers

  10. Bagels says:

    just set up a mail filter so the email goes to your spam folder.

  11. Dynamo says:

    Start posting the personal account info on the Facebook wall until they stop sending it to you.

    • Ed says:

      THIS!

      I would just post it to the FB wall of Virgin Mobile with a friendly note “Hey VM, this isn’t mine, can you please see that the right customer gets it. I’ve tried everything and this is the last place I can think of to try and get this fixed.”

      Then I’d do it month after month after month after month.

  12. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    What the big deal? I get someone else’s Verizon bill.I just set up a filter to send it to spam.

  13. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    i quit using virgin mobile when
    - they double billed me
    - i requested a refund on the second, erroneous charge
    - they cut off my phone instead of reversing the charge
    - when i asked for my phone to be turned back on, billed me a third time without restoring service
    - when asked to reverse TWO erroneous charges and restore service replied “we are keeping your money and you can’t do anything about it” and still didn’t turn the phone on
    - when faced with an inquiry from the credit agent at my credit union prior to chargeback, also told him that they were keeping my money and there was nothing the bank/credit union could do about it
    - called to ask me to sign back up for service after the credit union processed a chargeback on all three charges and didn’t understand why they had caused me any inconvenience.

    their customer service staff has a complete lack of common sense or understanding of the basics of how their own accounts work

    • incident_man says:

      I can offer at least a partial explanation of your experiences with Virgin Mobile: they’re a prepaid arm of Sprint.

      Sprint isn’t exactly known for their stellar service (customer service or coverage).

      • homehome says:

        actually they are known for good customer service, they’ve been leading for a little while now in that spot.

        • incident_man says:

          Charging $15 to change a minor child’s phone number because of unwanted calls isn’t exactly my idea of good customer service. Besides, they’re not at the top of the list anyway; read the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports. US Cellular tops the list and where US Cellular doesn’t operate, Verizon takes the top spot.

      • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

        No, they resell Sprint spectrum, but they are not an “arm” of Sprint. Sprint’s prepaid offering is called Boost. Virgin is a completely separate company.

        And I’ve been with Sprint for nearly 10 years. The customer service is no worse than any other phone company’s, and seems to have improved a small bit over the years. Not saying they’re anywhere near great, just not horrid.

    • Daddy-o says:

      “their customer service staff has a complete lack of common sense or understanding of the basics of how their own accounts work”

      That is correct and equally true of many companies.

      So-called “customer service staff” – or whatever else they’re called at other companies – are not required or paid to use common sense or to know how the company’s plans work. They’re being paid to say whatever they’re being told to say, otherwise they’ll lose their jobs.

  14. K-Bo says:

    Give them the account info that is in the email. They are most likely trying to get past a check put in the system so that no one can change someone’s info without verifying they are that person. They don’t need/want your information, and in fact yours would do no good. If the information doesn’t match the account, they won’t be able to make the change. I would just try the “I forgot my password” link, and see if you can log in and change the email yourself.

  15. eezy-peezy says:

    If you have the account holder’s name and address, call them up and ask them to change the email address on the account. If they don’t, well, with that info you can open up a big ol’ can of whup-ass on them.

    Check out
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berners_Street_Hoax

  16. GMFish says:

    One of my junk email accounts is common enough that plenty of people sign up for services and mistakenly use my email instead of their variation of it. I’ve had numerous people sign up for facebook, twitter, and various gaming websites using my email address.

    What I do each and every time is to do a password reset. Sign into the account. Then close/delete the account where allowed. Where it’s not allowed, it doesn’t matter. The person who originally signed up can no longer sign in again.

    If you can’t manage to type your own email address, you’re too stupid to be on facebook. And that’s saying something.

  17. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    I would see this as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Me too. I would promptly commandeer the account. If it had a card attached to.q it, I would order a very expensive new phone to be sent to her, buy loads of minutes, and change the pw so the person could not access the account on line. The offender would quickly learn what giving someone else’s email would do. I would then proceed to change all of the account info like email, address, dob, etc so the person could not access their own Acct.

      • bhr says:

        So you would commit fraud and make life hard on a person for what sounds like a typo?

        • selianth says:

          Usually you have to type in your email address more than once. It may have been a typo once, but either they were too stupid in quick succession to notice the same typo, or too stupid to notice it was the wrong address, or they used cut and paste which is also stupid. I don’t condone the fraud, but I’m not letting these people off the hook with “oh, it was an innocent typo” either. (It happens to me a lot too.)

  18. ThinkingBrian says:

    I hate to say it, but It seems to me that she is the victim of fraud and she needs get rid of that email address right now. The best thing for the OP to do in this case is to open a new email address elsewhere with a total different name, change everything that is important to the OP from the old email address to the new email address and then fully cancel the old email address as soon as possible. If the stranger use the email address once, they used many times.

    There is no other solution especially if something else happens, the OP could be possibly held responsible for it. I’m sorry that the OP is going through this and Virgin Mobile isn’t helping considering they need to deal with this issue, but enough is enough, time for the OP to protect his/her self and remove that old email address.

    • Yorick says:

      Do you have any idea how incredibly inconvenient it is to have to abandon an email address you’ve had for a long time?

    • lordmorgul says:

      This is not really necessary… someone else is being billed for services, and she is just getting a copy sent by email. She is not responsible for those bills. Real fraud issues arising from this are unlikely.

    • P=mv says:

      This is not a solutio9n as she is not responsible for the bills, just receiving the statements. Way too much overkill and way to much of a knee-jerk reaction.

  19. Jawaka says:

    The bad email address is attached to an account. They probably can’t search by email alone so they’re asking for additional information to help them find the account with the bad information in it. At least that’s what it seems to me.

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      And just how would Shadee’s personal information help them find the account of a person WHO ISN’T HER?

      Try to keep up with the basic premise here, even if you are incapable of reading ALL THE COMMENTS POSTED BEFORE YOURS.

  20. CubeRat says:

    My suggestions for the OP:

    1. Mark the e-mails as spam and add the e-mail added to the blocked e-mail list.
    2. If you actually have the customer bill, fill in their info in the requested fields and send that to Virgin Mobile.
    3. You could call the customer’s number and tell them that VM is sending you their bill with their personal info on it and let the customer contact VM.
    4. If #3 doesn’t work, you could post on VM’s FB wall that you have John Smith’s bill and post the phone number also…Ask all that see it to phone John Smith….after John Smith gets a bunch of calls, he might call VM directly.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      If you’re feeling particularly vindictive, you could spread the phone number on Omegle or, if you’re feeling downright mean, 4Chan…

  21. sifr says:

    I have this problem with at least 4 different people, all using a gmail address I’ve had pretty much since gmail started (which happens to be firstinitiallastname@gmailcom). I’ve received Quicken business account details (including information on their financials, their tax ID, etc.), all sorts of store purchase receipts, personal contacts regarding family members trying to deal with someone about to be foreclosed on and their realtor trying to finish a short sale (including full legal docs regarding the sale), various banking statements, and on, and on, and on.

    I’ve encountered exactly the same problem with every single entity doing this. They don’t seem to grok that one of their customers signed up using the wrong email address. And since none of these places take the simple and expedient step of verifying the email address before activating services, I’m stuck with receiving all this crap. I’ve taken to, wherever possible, responding to the emails (since these companies seem to think it belongs to the actual customer) and telling them to cancel whatever service or order is in use. And I tell the individuals that the person is either dead or in prison and to stop sending email.

    Heartless? Perhaps. But I’ve spent countless hours trying to do what the person in the article did, to no avail. If the idiots signing up for this crap don’t know their own email address, and if the companies are so braindead that they can’t understand simple English when the situation is explained to them, they both deserve it.

  22. Tegan says:

    Ugh, I had someone doing that with my email address with a bunch of different stuff for a while. At first I just marked stuff as spam, but then I started logging into the accounts she was signing up for and changing the password or deleting them (thankfully none of them had my name or other information attached, just my email). It kept getting more and more frequent, so I found her phone number in an employment search site account she had signed up for and called her and asked her why the hell she kept using my email address to sign up for everything under the sun. She said she thought it was her boyfriend’s email address, but she has to have been pretty dumb if she hadn’t noticed that the things she was signing up for weren’t coming through after the six months or so this had been going on. Thankfully it stopped after the phone call, I was getting pretty irritated.

  23. Taed says:

    For a joke many years ago on a male co-worker, I took a bar code label off one of his magazines, affixed it to a Victoria’s Secret catalog, and then left it in his company mailbox. He was very bothered by the lack of professionalism this potentially showed to others, so he immediately called them up and had about a 20-minute conversation with them. They (correctly) assured him that he was not on their mailing list and that the customer codes on the label were not theirs. But my co-worker kept saying that he was receiving the magazine, so he must be on their mailing list. Finally, in exasperation, the customer service person said that they’d ADD him to the mailing list and then REMOVE him. At that point my co-worker was satisfied. (At this point, I fessed up, as I was giggling in the adjacent cube.) And of course, we all know what happened next — he started receiving the catalogs for real.

    It could have been worse — my original idea was to get a raunchy weird fetish magazine, put his mailing label on it, and then leave it in the bathroom stall with some of the pages stuck together. I (wisely) decided that was too far over-the-top.

    • WalterSinister2 says:

      Your lucky, if I were the boss and found out you did that I’d probably fire you.

  24. LizziePoo says:

    There is actually a very simple solution to this: VM needs to have a feasible process in place to deal with this situation since it probably happens more often than you would think.

    I used to work for a mutual fund firm that had a very specific policy about this type of situation: if we received notification from a third party (in this case, Shadee) that an e-mail address attached to an account belonged to someone else, it would be considered a “privacy breach.” This meant that we would immediately remove the e-mail address from our systems, put detailed notes in our computer system, notify a supervisor, and document the situation using an internal form that the supervisor would need to approve. Then, we would make every effort possible to contact the actual customer (phone, letter, etc.) to verify that the e-mail address was incorrect and obtain a correct e-mail address. We would also offer to change account numbers for the customer due to the fact that a third party had access to his/her information. If the third party gave us contact information, we would also follow up with her to let them know of our efforts and thank them for bringing the matter to our attention.

    There is absolutely no reason for VM to ask for the third party’s personal information, and if VM doesn’t have a way to search their systems using an e-mail address, there are serious problems. All the systems we used had a way to search for a client’s profile using an e-mail address.

  25. homehome says:

    easy fix, block the address, problem solved, takes 10 seconds

    • LizziePoo says:

      The point is, though, that the company should have a procedure in place for this situation, as it’s pretty common nowadays. The fact that they can’t seem to figure out what to do is pretty depressing.

      • homehome says:

        They have a process in place, it just sucks. They cannot change information on the account unless the customer authorizes it. Yeah, it’s a pain, but let’s say if random person called to change information they didn’t authorize it, lawsuit, they’re out money. I used to work in the cell phone industry, ppl would call to other ppl’s accounts and try to do that all the time. They understand the problem, but they can’t because if something happens, guess who that’s gonna fall back on and who’s gonna get fired and could get charges brought on them, the rep.

      • framitz says:

        It is called use a phone to call their customer service instead of messing with faceplant.

  26. MickeyMoo says:

    For about 2 years I was receiving paper bills delivered through the USPS for someone else’s Macy*s bill. They’d been sloppy filling out an application or someone read a 3 as an 8 when inputting the billing address into the computer system. Numerous calls and e-mails to Macy*s were useless – they simply wouldn’t understand that I didn’t want to be getting someone else’s bills. I finally walked the bills over to the home of the correct recipient and told them that I would go on a shopping spree and have merchandise sent to random people in the phone book the next time I got their mail at my address. Problem solved.

  27. framitz says:

    A single phone call would have had this resolved quickly. Yes I’ve had some issues with Virgin in the past. Every issue was quickly resolved just by calling them.

    PHONES are more useful than Facebook IMHO.

    • sifr says:

      Speaking as someone who has actually picked up the phone on numerous occasions in an attempt to resolve exactly this kind of problem, I can state with some authority that no, a single phone call (nor multiple phone calls over a number of days, to numerous departments and levels of management) will not be any more successful than what she’s already experienced. People are just as moronic when they’re on the phone.

      • framitz says:

        It sounds like you are generalizing and have never called Virgin for service.

        Their phone support and service are good. I’ve never had to call more than once for an issue (about 3 in 4 years) to be resolved.

    • otherfred says:

      I actually had the same problem, made more confusing by the fact that I had two VM phones myself at the time. The phones were set up to “top up” automatically via credit card, yet I kept receiving emails reminding me to top up.

      It did take two calls to VM customer service, but they were able to track down the faulty account with only the email, and knowledge of my own numbers to avoid fixing the wrong one.

  28. Pete the Geek says:

    Years ago I had a mysterious Bell South charge appear on my credit card along with a 1-800 number. I was NOT a Bell South customer and this was an insurmountable problem for Bell South. In the end, I did a charge-back on my credit card. I did eventually receive a call from the Bell South fraud department, but they wanted my credit card number and I was unable to acquiesce.

    It appears that the Virgin Mobile customer service is similarly unable to handle what should be a routine situation. Considering privacy laws, this could end badly for Virgin Mobile. I think the OP should write a brief letter to their legal department and include copies of the other customers’ personal information, along with printouts of the previous conversations.

  29. Dr.Wang says:

    A similar story involving phone numbers, a little off topic but sort of funny anyway… While attending college I signed up for DSL and had to get a landline too. I started to get calls from bill collectors for the previous holder of that number. I got her first name from one of them. But despite all my threats they still called about twice a month. During college I was working as a registrar in a hospital ER. One day she came in to be seen and when I asked for her number, she actually gave me my home number! I couldn’t say anything because it would violate hospital policy. But it was funny to see the woman face to face and she was none the wiser. I got a new number and the calls stopped. Not too long after that I unplugged the phone and did cellular only.

  30. Jack Doe says:

    Contact them and advise you are going to report them to the FCC for releasing CPNI. They’ll shut that e-mail down quick.

  31. dullard says:

    With most ISPs you can go to their web based email site and have the sender’s domain completely blocked so that it is never seen. It won’t even be in your spam box.

  32. Not Given says:

    Get mailwasher on her email account.
    Bounce every email they send to her.
    They will stop sending and put a notice on the person’s account that she needs to give them a new email.
    I’m pretty sure this will work because I never got any emails from one of my credit card accounts and they put a notice on my account to give a new address. My ISP was bouncing all the payment receipts and other emails as spam and letting through the phishing emails that claimed to be the same bank.
    I use Hotmail, now.

  33. cardex says:

    Probably a phishing email the OP is too stupid to delete without opening and decided to waste hours of the people at virgins time bugging them about

  34. lordmorgul says:

    The long and short of it… is they are protecting the customer’s information from their own service reps…

  35. P=mv says:

    I had a similar problem with my local utility company. I kept getting someone’s electronic bills in my mail. Since I had recently closed an account with them at that address I wanted to be sure I no longer had an account with them. It took me an hour and a half to get a rep to simply say, “We no longer show your name on any account at any address in our service area.” They kept wanting the person’s personal information so they could, “look up the account”, and wouldn’t accept the account number and last couple statements as a way to look it up.

    Some companies just have their reps’ heads way too far up policy’s butt for any of them to be able to think straight. That is probably what is happening here.