An Email From the Dead

It has been a bit of a rough year emotionally for me, as I’ve lost a few friends and loved ones in the last eight months or so. Last summer I lost a woman who was just a few years older than me, but whom I considered in many ways to be my mother. She went into the hospital for a hernia operation and got a hospital-borne infection and was gone before we knew it. Then in the fall, one of my student employees passed away at the age of 62. She was taking classes to “stay young” and got a lung infection. And already this spring I’ve lost a relative to old age.

These events are a part of life, and as I get older, I expect to experience more of these kinds of things. What I don’t expect from these experiences are getting emails from my friends who have passed away, or to see them “online” through instant messenger or various chats.

But that is exactly what has happened. I saw my friend “online,” in an instant messenger program we both used, for several months after her death. And recently, I’ve started receiving emails from my student worker’s AOL account. She has been gone for almost six months. The emails, unfortunately, are spam, and include a link to a site where you will automatically get a trojan. Of course I delete the emails, never taking the link.

If this person were alive, I would just give them a call and tell them that either their computer is compromised, or their email account has been hacked. Several of my very-much-alive friends have gotten this particular infection lately, and it’s easy enough to correct. But when the person is gone, what do you do? I have, of course, simply marked her emails as spam so my spam filter catches them and I don’t see them anymore, but the bigger question in my mind is how many other long-gone people are sending emails from the grave? And beyond blocking the emails, is there anything one can do to have the account shut down and that email stopped permanently?

As our population ages, and as individuals have more and more email accounts go dormant, how do we stop this?