Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
After deleting an on-line account the ID is eventually made available for re-use. It's the same name but a different owner, and that can confuse people.
I have terminated my Yahoo account. There's a clause in the form that says that after 90 days my user ID can be made available to others. Does that mean that if someone then snaps up my old user name they could start impersonating me? Would he see everyone on my contact list? Would my old contacts see him and think I was back on-line?
Could that person try and impersonate you? Yes.
Will it be easy? Maybe.
This actually applies to all the services, not just Yahoo. The "90 days" part might change, but the basics would still apply.
When you close or abandon your account with any of the email or IM service providers, they typically do exactly what you've seen called out in the Yahoo text: after some period of time they make your abandoned user name available again. To anyone. All someone has to do it sign up and ask for it.
Now, exactly when it's returned to the available pool of names varies greatly. If you close your account with your ISP they could make your ID available again the next day if they wanted to. Most free services like Yahoo and others wait at least 30 days and most wait much more.
Typically, if you attempt to use your old name before time runs out it resets the clock. I mean, if you're successfully logging into it, you're clearly not "abandoning" it. Even if you go through a provider's steps to cancel an account, there's often a grace period after that where you can change your mind, login and "un-cancel" it.
Things get a little confusing when folks use two different services from the same provider, say email and instant messaging, that use the same ID. Using either one is usually enough to keep the other alive.
When your account is finally, really and completely closed by the provider, I believe several things happen:
Any email, files or other items stored in the account are irretrievably deleted.
Any contacts, friends or buddy lists are irretrievably deleted.
I hope that buddy lists maintained by the provider that reference your ID will remove you.
(Sometimes, as in the case of Hotmail, these things can actually happen well before the account is finally closed.)
The last point, however, is both incomplete and uncertain.
For example, I might have your account in my contacts in MSN Instant Messenger. When your account is finally truly deleted MSN could remove you from my list. I'd actually expect it to.
However these services can't remove you from lists that they don't manage. That means if someone adds you to an address book that's not part of the service, there's no way to remove that when your ID is deleted.
Even more likely are services that allow you to maintain a kind of combined address book, buddy and contact list where you can add information of your own to each contact. In these cases the services may not be able to just delete the entry, because they'd be deleting additional information that your old buddy may have entered. I know I'd be annoyed if the system just deleted the whole thing out from underneath me.
So in summary, if someone picks up your ID after it's been deleted:
Any data in your account is lost, so they will not see your contact list or old email.
It's possible that it might look like you "came back" to people who used to be your buddies. It depends on the service, and how your buddies kept track of your ID.
In the long run, if you're at all concerned and particularly for free accounts, I'd simply keep the account open so that someone else doesn't get it.
To be totally honest, it's one reason why I'm very confused by the number of people who are looking for ways to delete their account immediately. All they're really doing is making it possible for someone else to sign up and get their old ID that much sooner.
Important: sadly, since I know it will happen, I'll delete any comments to this article that are simply requests to delete an account.
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