Another spam vector that has not been mentioned is “free” services that send greeting e-cards to all your friends…just enter their email address, name…and birthdate! Also all those sites that invite you to share this joke, picture, tune with a friend.
Back before there were good options for spam filters, I had a “friend” that turned my work email addy into a spam magnet this way.
One thing that spammers and email list conglomerators do NOT do is cull obsolete or mistaken addresses, so once something gets in one list, it is assured a very long life.
There are firms, some with possibly legitimate reasons like skip tracing, that attempt to associate names with addresses, emails and phones, because that makes them more valuable. It is of very little concern that such associations are accurate, and quantity is the goal. The source of data for these programs may be legitimate and/or highly improper or illegal. These programs put 2 and 2 together and get something between 3 and 5, which is close enough for them.
So, to answer the OP, you may have been the victum of one of these conglomerators, and one of their wild guesses just turned out to be right.
I’ll give you an example of how this works. Over 20 years ago I used a Diner’s Club card for the first and only time ever, to rent a car in Chicago, and I paid the bill on a timely basis. 6 months later I got calls from Diner’s wanting my balance to be paid up. Apparently someone at the Chicago rental agency had taken my card number and charged hundreds of dollars worth of plane tickets and gifts, then immediately requested a change of address for the account (in those days, anyone could do that without much verification). Of course, I never got the bills.
Although Diner’s never gave me any hassle and quickly wiped the credit reports clean, I was curious about the address that they told me the card had been changed to. Perhaps it was a stroke of luck that the new address was nearby, so I drove past and discovered it was a mail drop in Burbank.
I have never lived in Burbank, but to this day you can find it in lists of my past addresses, along with some other bogus entries that are simply decades out of date and some names that I have never used or are related to.
a) it’s true that viruses and spyware can raid someone’s email address book & phone that info home to a spammer. In fact, some semi-legitimate companies do this. UNYK, for example, claims to be free software that combines and automagically updates your many email address books. Meanwhile, it sends out to all your friends and business associates several misleadingly personalized “invitations” (spam) to use UNYK.
b) A far more sinister threat is the next-level data mining that companies like ComScore do. They take legally (and sometimes illegally or misleadingly) obtained info from several sources and stitch it together to get more complete profiles on you than any one source could provide.
Suppose, for example, that you signed up for a Sears&Roebuck online account (for example) in 2008, and filled out an online job application for XYZ company in 2008, and used the same PC to browse a sportsfishing site in 2009. If you’d failed to read or understand the implications of page 10 of the 54-page end user license agreement for the Sears site, you wouldn’t realize that you’d allowed Sears (and by extension ComScore and its “business partners”/customers) intimate access to your personal information.
These software packages are sophisticated to a degree that’s hard to imagine outside a sci-fi novel. They can “keylog”, recording your typing and mouse behaviors even when you’re inside secure websites like banking sites. They can use your passwords, the way you use your mouse, and typical keyboard behavior to distinguish between several people using the same PC. They can use your name, birthdate, IP address, mailing address, and so on to create a composite picture of your personal data, income, profession, location, and shopping interests.
It’s no great stretch of the imagination to realize that they may often attach an expired name or address to more current data. It’s very easy to see how you can be receiving spam or junkmail or sales phonecalls that use your maiden or ex-husband’s name.