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Online email providers have stringent security functions in place to reduce duplication and hacking of email as much as possible.

About a little less than a year ago, I had a Yahoo email account that I had for many years. I closed this account about a year ago because when I used it, it would redirect me to another site with all this weird script. I don't know if someone's sent me a virus or something, so I then got a new email address with a different email provider.

I've now opened a new Yahoo email account with a different email address. My question is this: if someone opened a Yahoo email account with the same email address as the one that I had closed, and they used my birthday and zip code as I had it in that account I closed, would Yahoo recognize this and pull up old data specifically on my account activity?

I realize that when a Yahoo email account is closed, that the data is erased and stored in a backup or archives, but I was thinking if someone opened a Yahoo email with the same information, same email address, same birthday, same zip code that the Yahoo system would somehow pull up old data like account login history. I wouldn't want someone to know of my information, especially something personal like account login activity. I don't think that someone would do this, but you never know. Someone tried to use my other email address that I have with a different email provider to sign up for Facebook. You can never be too safe.

In this excerpt from Answercast #21, I look at the type of steps that a person would have to go through to retrieve an old email address. It's not as simple as knowing a few pieces of random information.

My old email address

I agree you can never be too safe, but I don't think you have anything to worry about at all.

The fact is that yes, when you delete an email account, when you close an email account like that, after some period of time, the email address that you had becomes available to new subscribers.

So if you had, you closed it, and then someone else came along and opened up, they could easily get the email address that you used to have.

Now, signing up with the birthday and the zip code and whatever else, I honestly don't think there's anything to worry about.

Online email has security protection

What you're assuming is that there is no possibility that there could be another person with the same zip code and the same birthdate who might want to open up an email account with that same old email address. That's an assumption that Yahoo can't make. They have to assume that this person, even it's all the same information, is a completely different person because it could in fact be a different person.

So, Yahoo isn't going to associate this new account with your old information based on that little bit of information.

When it comes down to it, it really is a very small bit of information: the email address, the zip code, and the birthdate. That's not nearly enough to associate a new account with an old one. In fact, I'm absolutely positive that Yahoo simply doesn't do that.

You would have to go through some form of customer service channels (if that were even available) to try and get at that old information. And as you point out, when an account is closed, that information is spooled off to backup, removed from their active system, and eventually it falls off the table completely. I'm sure that the backups themselves are archived after some amount of time.

We have no idea what the amount of time involved is, but I do know that when you are looking to get something from backup you have to jump through a number of hoops, way more than just happening to get three random pieces of information correct.

End of Answercast #21 Back to - Audio Segment


Article C5399 - May 28, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 29, 2012 9:43 AM

Perhaps not strictly on topic, but I was amazed to receive a bona fide email at my gmail address in reply to a message I hadn't sent, but with a From address missing a dot. I was rather surprised to discover that gmail accepts but ignores punctuation preceding the @. Or at least it did when it happened, a year or two back.

It's happened twice since 2010.

June 1, 2012 10:56 AM

There is another side to this ... if anyone (friend, acquaintance, or business) sends you e-mail at your old e-mail address, guess who gets it? So the question is, do ALL of those people and companies now have your new e-mail address, and ONLY your new e-mail address?

This is one of the reasons that when people ask me how to close an account I strongly recommend that they consider keeping it open and simply stop using it - logging in only often enough to keep it active and check for old friends.

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