Could Someone Reopen My Closed Email Account?

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 they see everyone on my contact list? Would my old contacts see them and think I was back online?

Could that person try and impersonate you? Sure.

Would that person see everyone on your contact list? No.

This is an important aspect of account ownership that applies to all services, not just Yahoo.

When you close or abandon an email account, it’s possible that after some time your user ID or email address could become available for someone else to use. While they would not have access to the previous contents of your account, they would have access to email still being sent to that email address, and could use it to try to impersonate you. It’s safer not to close or abandon email accounts, but rather check in just often enough to keep them from being reassigned.

Grace period

When you close or abandon your account with any online service provider, they typically make your abandoned user name and email address available again after some time. To anyone. As if it had never been used before.

All someone has to do it sign up and ask for it.

For most services, if you log in again before time runs out, it indicates you’re not “abandoning” the account, and resets the clock. Even if you go through the provider’s steps to cancel an account, there’s often a grace period during which you can change your mind, log in, and “un-cancel” the account.

Things get a little confusing when people use multiple services from the same provider. For example, your Microsoft account is at once an email account, possibly your Skype account, your OneDrive account, and perhaps even your computer’s login account. Using any of these services keeps the entire account active. You can’t close only your Microsoft email account while keeping your OneDrive account with the same email address. The same is generally true for all multiple-service providers, including Google and Yahoo!.

When?

If you do abandon or explicitly close your account, exactly when it’s returned to the available pool of names varies greatly.

For example, if you close your account with your ISP, they could make your ID available again the very next day if they wanted to — and I’m sure some do.

Most free services like Yahoo! and others wait at least 30 days, and most wait much longer.

What happens?

I believe that closing and abandonment are similar processes, and follow the same general sequence of events, but remember, this is totally up to each service provider, and can change without warning or notice.

We begin by abandoning the account. That means you don’t use it in any way. You don’t log in to the account or any service related to the account.

After some period of time, the service notices that you haven’t logged in and considers your account abandoned. At this point, typically:

  • Any email, files, or other items stored in the account are irretrievably deleted.
  • Any contacts, friends, or similar lists are irretrievably deleted.

At this point, your account is effectively gone. You may be able to re-open it by logging in again, but all of your previously-stored data will be gone.

After some additional period of time, the service removes the “login to re-open” option completely. You simply cannot get the login ID (i.e. email address) back again once this happens.

At the same time, or perhaps after some additional time, the service will release the email address or ID back into the available pool. Now someone — anyone — could come along and request your old email address and get it.

When someone else has your old email address

It’s important to realize that when someone comes along and requests your abandoned email address, they get a completely new account. There is nothing in that account that relates to your old account except the email address / login ID.

Remember, as part of the closing process, the service deleted all of your stuff before they closed it. It’s gone. You can’t get it, and neither can the person who now has your old email address.

However.

What they will get is any new email sent to your old email address. Deleting your account did nothing to tell the world that the email address isn’t yours any more. Even if you did try to broadcast the change, it’s very likely that not everyone got the message or updated their records. Chances are your old email address is still in someone’s address book or included on some mailing list somewhere.

The new account owner will get anything sent to your old address.

And he’ll be sending “From:” your old address.

I hope that’s all OK, because there’s nothing you can do about it.

OK, there is one thing.

Don’t close the account

If the possibility of someone else getting email intended for you but sent to a long-abandoned email address bothers you, the solution is simple.

Don’t abandon it. Don’t close it.

Keep the account open. Check in every so often so it stays open.

Keep it yours, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.

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