Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Allowing an email account to expire is a convenient way to close it, but make absolutely certain it's what you want, or there could be serious issues.

I have an email account on which I have not signed in for a long period of time. Under the terms of some free email services, the account will automatically be deleted, and the account's email address can be used by someone else after a specific period of time. I know that.

However, if I used that email addresses in the past for getting updates about my Paypal account, what about that? Does Paypal or any other similar web site detect this situation, or just send the confidential information to that email address instead?

This is not good.

Seriously, the best advice I can give you is to never, ever, EVER let that happen.

I don't even know whether or not Paypal detects the situation, but even not knowing I can tell you that this is an extremely dangerous situation.

You may have just given your Paypal account (and everything in it) away.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain why.

Your email address is frequently your primary means of identifying yourself to many different types of websites and services, including sites like Paypal. Access to that email address - including the ability to receive and respond to messages sent to it - is one of the basic ways that these services confirm that you are who you say you are. You have access to the email address you registered with the service, therefore you must be you.

"The services you register with may never notice that you've abandoned your account."

As you can guess, retaining access to that email address is critical to maintaining your identity on those services where you used it.

The most common scenario where this comes up is when an email account is hacked and access is suddenly taken. Accounts are hacked on an alarmingly regular basis, but depending on your service provider you often have recourse when you contact them for help, particularly if you've been actively using the account up until the incident.

On the other hand, if you just let the account lapse, most providers will assume you've abandoned your account completely, and may not help you recover it if you find later that you needed it. Particularly if another person has come along and created a new account with your old email address you may simply be S.O.L. - severely out of luck.

The services you register with may never notice that you've abandoned your account. Paypal, for example, may well continue sending email to that email address as long as the email doesn't bounce. And there's no guarantee that email will bounce - so Paypal might never even know that the account has been abandoned.

When a new person comes along with that new account using your old abandoned email address, they could suddenly start getting notices from Paypal. All they need to do is have a password reset sent to that email address and they now have your Paypal account.

And I'm not even sure that Paypal can, or would, help you in a case like that.

And even if they could, I use Paypal only as an example - any service for which you've used this email address is vulnerable. Do they all detect email bounces? Do they all have recovery processes? Will they all even help you?

You're betting an awful lot on some answers that I suspect are mostly not what you want to hear.

So I can only reiterate the advice I started with: never, ever, EVER let that happen. Make sure that any email account you use when registering for services as important as Paypal are accounts that you keep active and secure.

Article C4330 - June 2, 2010 « »

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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.

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8 Comments
Ken B
June 3, 2010 12:45 PM

Given that domain names are available for just a few dollars a year, and virtually all registrars include free e-mail addresses. I don't understand why people in cases like this don't use their own domain name. Even if you simply forward the e-mail to your free e-mail account, you still retain control of your domain's e-mail address, even if you change or lose your free address.

My sentiments exactly.
Leo
05-Jun-2010

Mike
June 3, 2010 1:32 PM

I agree, Ken B. That is exactly what I did 2 years ago so that, no matter where I move, no matter what ISP I use, NO MATTER WHAT, I will always have the same email address.

I still use the email address from my ISP for unimportant things. For example, when ask-leo.com asks me for an email address--Sorry, Leo!

No appology neccessary. You have a strategy about how you use your email - that's more than most. Smile
Leo
05-Jun-2010
Bob S
June 8, 2010 1:15 PM

I don't see why email accounts for purchasing or paying bills is much different than credit card, banking, etc., accounts. When you change any of those, one must, or at least should notify changes to all those that you have used for mayments. I guess the one difference, and it is big, is that except for email accounts, things will bounce and no one else will get the old name or number. But if you notify the receiver of funds to use a new email address, when you abandon an old one, then wouldn't you be safe?

John H
June 8, 2010 1:19 PM

Seeing as how E-mail is so important, I pay GoDaddy about 10 bucks a year for a domain name and an e-mail service that I rarely ever get spam in.

Years ago when I realized that I could not backup Microsoft Outlook, I stopped using it and have since depended on my paid e-mail account to archive everything for me. I don't believe in keeping my data in an online "cloud" but this solution is just to cheap and dependable.

Sorry if this sounds like an advertisement but I think this solution needs to be mentioned. I'm sure other providers are out there with similar service.

John Falzon
June 9, 2010 12:44 AM

It seems to me that if someone were to use Outlook with the free e-mail services (Gmail etc) he/she would have a copy of all e-mails on his local machine. Thats at least a small step forward as all past e-mails are available. Otherwise you might not even know exactly what you have "lost". Of course having said that I agree with having your own domain, except where it comes to generic subscriptions and other stuff which you don't mind losing..

Absolutely - using POP3 access for your email and keeping your address book on your own machine at least allows you to keep your data in the event of several different types of failures. (Though be sure to back things up yourself, so as to avoid different failures causing you troubles.)
Leo
09-Jun-2010

Linda Everett
June 9, 2010 11:04 AM

One solution would be to change your email address with PayPal (or whoever). That would solve the problem of them sending information to the old one.

Ankit
June 12, 2011 3:31 PM

I do not agree with this statement in the article: "You may have just given your Paypal account (and everything in it) away."

-You still need a password to login in paypal. And as the email is already registered in it, you can always login in to paypal then add more email address in it and make the new one as primary email address.

hina
March 31, 2012 8:44 AM

when the hotmail account expires what happens to the mails which are sent by that account to someone else?
do they stay with the same name(even when the account is expired? in other persons inbox or not?

When an account expires it's no longer able to send mail. Mail that was previously sent is unchanged.
Leo
02-Apr-2012

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