Can you imagine receiving dozens of letters from strangers every day, having your utilities cut off, or not being able to unsubscribe from certain services, all because of an unfortunate address? That’s what life is like at 1234 AB, 123 (changed for privacy reasons), the address that most hackers, as well as everyday people in the Netherlands, use when filling out online forms. They do it out of laziness, or to protect their own privacy, without realizing that some of the things they do online actually affect the people at that address.
Motherboard Netherlands recently learned that 1234 AB, 123 was the most spammed address in the country, and decided to investigate if such an address actually existed. A Google search revealed that there was a indeed a place in the Noord Holland province with that exact address, and it even showed up on Streetview. They were soon able to find some phone numbers of the people living there, to ask them if living at the most spammed address in the country affected their lives in any way. Turns out it does, “bigly”!
The first person Motherboard contacted was a man named Fransen, who had some interesting stories to tell. In 2009, about half a year after moving at 1234 AB, 123, his phone and internet were cut off. Over the next few months, the same thing happened to his gas, water and electricity. It was clear to him that something strange was going on, but he had no idea what it was.
The explanation Fransen received simply baffled him. Many companies in the Netherlands offer “relocation services”, so when someone moves to a new address, they simply notify their utilities supplier so they can shut off services at their old address and set them up at their new home. The problem is that many people apparently fill out their old address as 1234 AB, 123, so they can get through the process faster, and that leads to suppliers actually cutting off utilities to Fransen and the other tenants at the spammy address.
But this was only the beginning of Fransen’s problems. At one point, he tried unsubscribing from the NCS newspaper, but was unable to, because a large number of people who had failed to pay their subscription showed up at his address. He would have been forced to settle the debt in order to unsubscribe. The spammy address also prevented him from buying anything from Bol.com, the Dutch version of Amazon, for a long time, because too many people had used his address to register and had broken the site’s terms and conditions.
Fransen also complained that he couldn’t even go on vacation for years, because he had to keep an eye on the mail box and contact various utility suppliers that threatened to cut their services if the recipient didn’t settle his debt. He had to explain that the person they were addressing wasn’t actually living at that address, and that cutting of utilities would effect innocent people.
The second person contacted by Motherboard during their investigation was Mrs. Hendricks, an 83-year-old woman living at that same unfortunate address. She said that until a few years ago, she only received strange letters every few years, but things have gotten infinitely worse lately. She barely has time to empty the mailbox before it becomes clogged with junk mail again.
Many of the letters sent to 1234 AB, 123 are addressed to “T. Test”. That’s a pretty weird name, and it turns out it is the preferred choice of new call center employees learning to input addresses. Only instead of getting canceled, their test letter actually get sent and wind up in the hands of people like Fransen and Hendriks.
“We received mail addressed to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dagobert Duck and Piet Piemel. The level of Dutch humor is really sad,” a cynical Mr. Fransen said.
Faced with constant problems, the people of 1234 AB, 123 spent years looking for a solution. They first went to the police, but they had no idea how to help. Then they went to the local authorities, to have the postal code changed, but, as a result of the privatization of postal services, including the allocation of postal codes, the matter was out of the hands of the Government. So they tried getting PostNL, the company that now assigns postal codes, to make the change, but despite several attempts, including sending a cake to the director of the company, to let him see what it was like to receive something you never ordered was like, they were unsuccessful.
Finally, the mayor of their city came up with a solution. Because 1234 AB, 123 is a corner building, the address can be changed to the adjacent street. The postal code remains the same, but it is no longer combined with the “123” house number. It seemed that the nightmare was over, but, last December, Mr. Fransen’s electricity was cut off again. Unfortunately, he and his co-tenants learned that it may take up to 10 years for their old address to be erased from the databases of some of their utility suppliers.
The actual address and the names of the people in this story are fictitious, for privacy reasons, but the real ones are known to Motherboard Netherlands.