Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
It's easy to create an account in someone else's name and harass people. It's not so easy to track or punish the offenders, but it can be done.
I don't know what to do but someone has taken my name, set up a new e-mail account and is sending very nasty e-mails to family members. I've contacted Yahoo! but I don't know the personal information to get into the account since I didn't set it up and they still haven't contacted me back. I don't know if this is a punishable offense and I don't know how to get Yahoo! to take me seriously. What should I do?
It's trivial to set up accounts on the free services in which you can be anonymous - using entirely fake information - or in which you can impersonate someone else.
I'm not sure I'd expect much help from the provider - Yahoo, in your case. To be honest, even if they did bother to reply, they wouldn't know who to believe. You and I know that you're not, but how's Yahoo to know that you're not the impersonator, or just someone trying to hassle someone else?
Here's what I would do...
First, I'd make sure to distinguish it from a form of spam that may also look like it's coming from you. This article: Someone's sending from my email address! How do I stop them?! covers that scenario.
Second, I'd seriously consider whether it was worth doing anything at all. As we'll see in a moment, I believe that chances of resolution are actually pretty small. If you can simply ignore what's happening, or let your friends and family know to ignore email from that bogus address, it might be the simplest solution of all. Basically ignore it, and get on with your life.
I know that's not always an option.
Certainly it doesn't hurt to contact Yahoo, or Hotmail, or the customer service desk of whichever service this person is using. I'd go ahead and do so, but would keep my expectations very low. Free email services simply don't invest in a lot of customer service, and actual responses are very, very rare. Make very sure that you are using the correct contact method, and that your request is tagged as a report of abuse.
In addition to the normal customer service channels, I would also email "abuse@" that service. That's supposed to be a standard email address for reporting system abuse like what you describe.
As to whether or not it's punishable - there's no way to know. It could be in violation of the service provider's terms of service, and in fact I would hope so. But as we've seen, it's nearly impossible to get the service provider's attention.
It could be illegal. Again, that may depend on many factors including exactly where you and the other person are located, and the exact form of the email abuse or harassment. It could even be considered a form of identity theft, I suppose. The bottom line here is that there's no way to know for sure, without contacting law enforcement.
And if things are serious enough, then yes, that's my next step. But once again, I'd keep expectations low. Depending on where you are, cyber crime and cyber harassment may simply not be a priority, or the agency may not be knowledgeable about these issues. Hopefully they are, or can direct you to the appropriate agency to deal with this.
The good news, if there is any in all this, is that the service providers such as Yahoo, Hotmail and others, do respond to law enforcement.
But ultimately, as long as the problem is serious enough to warrant their attention, taking legal action may be your only recourse. And even then, there are no guarantees. My only advice is to remain persistent - but again, only if the problem is serious enough to warrant it.
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