I am not the most tech-savvy individual in the world (most of my close friends know this all too well) but I know enough to know how to handle the Internet, especially when it comes to privacy. Rarely do I sign up for anything, and if I am forced to, I use one of several “junk” email addresses. I generally never use my personal email address or school email addresses. This is pretty standard practice nowadays.

Back in December, I woke up to a deluge of emails. A deluge of emails is not exactly unusual for many of us, and generally is never a problem for me. The problem was that these emails all had one thing in common: they were all from online education sites in response to supposed requests I made regarding a variety of academic programs and degrees. All the emails were directed to one of my school email addresses.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a bachelors and two masters degrees. Given the amount of student loan debt I have been tackling, if I was going to further my education, it would not be now but sometime in the future. It seems inconceivable that, if I were to consider going the online education route, I would use my school email address to request information. I also have anti-virus/anti-spyware/anti-malware software installed.

Not only did I receive probably no less than 100 emails over the next month, but received calls on my cell phone from many, if not all of the institutions from whom I had received an email. Rather than passively mark them as spam, I decided to contact them. Only after responding to each and every call, and requesting each caller to take me off of their calling list, did I see a decrease in the communication I was receiving. Now I receive maybe one or two every few days, and all get automatically relegated to my spam folder.

I thought that was the end of it.

Boy was I wrong.

This morning, I woke up to another deluge of emails. No, these weren’t from online universities, but insurance companies. Each was emailing me in response to an auto insurance quote request that I supposedly made…again using my school email address. Apparently I am not alone. After Googling the issue, I found that many people have been similarly inundated with unsolicited emails from insurance companies. After a local agent contacted me in response to my supposed quote request, I sent him an email and got the following:

I went to NetQuote’s website. It’s a company that apparently sells insurance leads. Thanks to a nifty little extension called Web of Trust (WOT), got this warning as soon as I landed on their homepage:

Frankly, given their reputation, I was hesitant about emailing them, didn’t want that information somehow stored and used by their system. However, I called the 800 number and a very helpful representative did look into my situation. I wasn’t listed as a consumer, but the quote request ID did show up in their system. Someone did make a request using my information. The rep thought that it would have been because I filled out a survey or requested a gift card online, something that would require my email and other contact information (I’ve never done anything of the sort). They assured me that emails would be sent to the insurance agents to not contact me. While I’m glad that they did help me, something is still clearly not adding up. So I’m telling my story here, the only way I know to try to publicize the issue.

I feel violated and worried. As careful as I am, these things are still happening to me. Sure, insurance and online universities are not exactly dangerous entities in their own right. Yet if someone can use my private email and make my cell phone number readily available to entities with whom I have no connection, what else can they potentially do? I have checked all of the more important things (bank account, credit report, etc.) and there doesn’t seem to be anything amiss. Nonetheless, I want something to be done. This is a blatant invasion of privacy for personal gain, and they are really picking on the wrong person.

I know I am not alone, so I’m requesting anyone who has had similar problems or know anyone who has to share and retweet this post as much as possible. The Internet has ballooned into a vast and complicated entity. While that has provided innumerable benefits, the expansion has also driven the rise of people whose sole goal is to take advantage of others for the sake of making money or other purposes, many of them illicit.

If you have received similar emails, rather than ignore them or mark them as “spam”, dig deeper. Find out who gave out this information and contact them. If they don’t help, look up their profile on the Better Business Bureau or other similar regulatory agency’s database. File a complaint, describe your story, make sure your voice is heard. That is the only way they will learn that we will not stand by quietly and allow them to invade our lives and our privacy.