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My partner has a unique name, and while we can't truly be certain we're almost 100% sure she is the only one in the world with it.

Once upon a time she had a hotmail account with her name as the username, along the lines of janedoe@hotmail.com, and for various reasons she deactivated it.

We recently discovered that someone has re-registered the same account with her name. Apparently hotmail accounts get recycled after a period of time after deactivation (somewhat like phone numbers I guess) and they become fair game for anyone.

Now perhaps there is someone out there with her name who just happened to create a hotmail account, BUT we were able to find out that the recovery email address ended in @126.com, a major Chinese email provider.

The hotmail team suggested raising an abuse case on the chance that it is being used for spam etc. but we haven't heard anything about it.

This is worrying. Why would someone do this and what can she do to protect herself? There's a good chance she had other accounts connected to this email that were forgotten about, in fact the reason we discovered this is because she had an Apple ID connected to it that we tried to regain access to.

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    I don't know that we can help you. I'd say give up on the hotmail account, work with Apple support to move the account to a new email. You'll need to prove stuff like credit info maybe but it should be possible. – Sirens Oct 19 '17 at 2:37
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    Related question: security.stackexchange.com/questions/138361/… – Erwan Legrand Oct 19 '17 at 7:55
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Why would someone do this and what can she do to protect herself?

It is not clear what the motive could be. Maybe someone is recycling old, forgotten, deprecated accounts to sit and wait for an important email to arrive that offer potential for financial benefits or to attain illegitimate access (e.g. Apple ID account access) or just use it for spam.

There is not much she can do to protect herself but to try to "un-link" accounts linked to that email address or, if that is not possible, delete these accounts since you have no way of accessing that email now and someone else clearly does. This makes it a security risk. Other than that, notify the hosts such as Hotmail (which you already did).

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Question1 : Why would someone do this

Abandoned digital identity and its footprints can be valuable for other. The usage is similar to identity theft, minus parts that need serious validation. Recycled digital identity footprints are pretty useful to build a private social group for monetary gains, or use to evade computing verification mechanism to detect "bot" character.

Question2 :what can she do to protect herself

The biggest problem is not just about email address, but the digital footprints associate as well. For the email part, just inform all the friend that the email address has been abandoned.
The digital footprints associated with the email need more effort to deal with. My suggestion is to use the Norton checklist on How to Clean Up Your Online Digital Footprint to deal with all those old stuff, so nobody can monetize/abuse the associated activities.

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