Desperately seeking closure.
That’s a question I recently got on my Facebook page. I responded with an answer, which I’ll include below.
However, I often have to remind myself that while answering a specific question is great, understanding the reasons behind the question can often be even more helpful.
For example, I should have asked: Why do you want to close the account?
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Closing an account
Closing an email account does not guarantee that email sent to its address will start bouncing back to senders, for a variety of possible reasons. Better to keep the account alive and craft your own “bounce” out of an out-of-office or vacation autoresponder. You can then ignore the account and it’ll eventually be treated as abandoned, or you can sign in on occasion to prevent someone else from being assigned your old email address.
What closing will almost always NOT do
I get questions about permanently closing accounts all the time. I have instructions for a couple of popular services I can point to if appropriate.
The problem is that closing the account is rarely what they really want.
Instead, they often want a bounce message to be sent to people emailing the “closed” account. They’re looking for something saying “This account is closed” or “This account does not exist” or anything somehow indicating the account is no longer in use and to please stop emailing to it.
I hate to break it to you, but closing an account will almost certainly not make that happen. That’s not how closing works.
These aren’t the bounces you’re looking for
To be clear, the reasons don’t matter. The bounce you’re looking for may not happen. If you close the account, it’s not in your control, period. You are giving up any and all ownership or control over what happens to it next.
Many folks can’t get past this point without an answer to “why”, so here are some ideas:
- Some services don’t close accounts immediately. “How do I get back this account I permanently closed by accident?” is a common enough question that email services prepare for it. They set up a “grace period” during which you can reclaim your closed account by simply signing in again.
- The email address might be reassigned to another user. When you close an account, the service is free to make the email address available to someone else. You could find your old, closed email address is now someone else’s. Email sent to it won’t bounce because it’s going to a new owner.
- It might generate too much outgoing mail. If your account was getting a lot of mail (including spam), then bouncing on every message could generate too much outgoing mail. Even with the capacity to send many bounce messages, it could negatively impact the company’s reputation relating to spam. So they may choose not to.
- There might be policy or other reasons. The ISP could have seemingly arbitrary reasons based on things as varied as backup procedures, legal requirements, or perhaps even manual intervention that simply take “a while”.
The message that I’m trying to get across is: closing an account may not cause bounces to be generated, and there are many reasons why that might be the case.
Roll your own bounce
My recommended approach is simple.
Keep the account. Set up an “out of office” or “vacation auto-responder” that replies with a message saying, “This account is no longer checked”, or something similar. It’s like creating your own bounce message.
Then I’d go further and say ignore the account forevermore. As long as you don’t log in, it’ll eventually be closed as abandoned.
On the other hand, if you don’t want someone else to be given your old email address, the only answer is to keep it active by signing in every so often. You can ignore the mail there, but you’ll want to sign in from time to time to make sure it’s not closed and taken from you.
Bouncing the unbounceable
If your email service has no “out of office” or similar feature, then this becomes a slightly different process:
- Create a new email account at a service that does do out-of-office notifications. (Gmail is one.)
- Forward your old account to that new account, or have that new account automatically fetch email from the old one using POP3 services, if available.
- Configure that new account to send the bounce message.
The good news is that regardless of which of these approaches you use, the results are in your control. You control the message sent to people.
And of course, by leaving the account open, you’re prepared should you ever realize that closing it was a mistake for some other reason.
Keeping the emails from a closed account
To answer the other question asked: yes, it’s easy to keep emails from an account you plan to close or abandon. Either:
- Install a desktop email program like Thunderbird and download all the email.
- Have another online email account use remote POP3 access to fetch all the email from the old account you plan to leave behind.
You’ll probably also want to export and save the contacts as well.
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