Officemax sends junkmail address to "Daughter Killed In Car Crash"

I think I would be more angry that there was a marketing company that sold my name on a list with that notation. I’d want to find out who they were.


Or a list of people who recieved junk mail referring to their family members killed in car crashes.

For me, this sounds like a CSV off by one problem like


Michael Smith,Warning, hates junk mail,Australia


Actually that was probably in the ‘Address 2’ line, that would make sense. . and it very well may be that the data source had that field as a memo for notes.

Now that I see a picture of the address, I have a sneaking suspicion of what happened. See the “Or Current Business” line below the address? It looks like the “Daughter…” line is being treated as a business name. OfficeMax sells mostly to small businesses. I’d bet they buy lists of local businesses for marketing, and the company compiling those lists probably has software scanning various public sources of information for new local small businesses. I’m going to guess that includes local newspapers. The list company’s software mistook something, an article, or even an obituary, for an ad for a local business, parsed it accordingly, and added it to the list. The list company didn’t check their results too well, and the list went on to OfficeMax’s direct mail dept. All automated. It likely has nothing to do with any snooping on the man’s family life, just the sort of boneheaded, automated data collection screw up computers excel at facilitating. Still horrifying for the fellow who received it, tho.

I wonder what else is in that database? I think it’s worth noting the creepy factor that corporations are keeping such detailed dossiers on file for people. Especially once one considers the documented collusion back and forth between the NSA, private contractors and corporations.


Yes, probably stupid in-band signaling.

I agree. I think where the story gets inexcusable is when two people from Office Max deny it to the guy. These type of database errors happen all the time, as we all agree. The appropriate response is “I am so very sorry, sir.”


I would see your point, if not for the note that two Office Max representatives denied it could even happen. He is owed an apology from the CEO. He was understandably upset, then two people didn’t just dismiss that, but suggested he was lying as well.


Speaking as someone whose father was recalled from a layoff the day of his funeral, no.

In the case of a phone call, the company thinks the daughter is alive but is mistaken. It’s upsetting, but without any other mitigating factors it may be taken in good faith. Sticking info about a dead relative and their cause of death in an address box used for junk mail – not so much.


The point of asking for an apology from the CEO is to make sure the CEO is aware that this problem happens. All too often in large organizations middle managers will do everything in their power to cover up mistakes and keep them from reaching higher levels even if that’s what is required for change to happen. The CEO isn’t going to like being embarrassed and will likely tell his operations VP or someone similar to make sure someone is held responsible. An apology from a minimum wage CSR won’t change a single thing. One from the CEO, even if it is written and signed by his assistant, at least gets the issue into the executive suite. If nothing else, at least the call center scripts can be updated to handle the situation better than to accuse the bereaved of being a liar.


Here’s a little tip database developers: people die. Yes, I know this is shocking news to YOU oh invincible ones.

Here’s another tip: when you create a database of people, some of those people will die practically as you create the database.

Here’s another tip: maybe have a field that can close the account - here’s an idea, let’s call that field “Account Closed; User Deceased.”

Out of sensitivity to other people who may have known the deceased, let’s make sure that any account that has this designation does not get any more mail, ever.

I know, that seems so HUMAN, but software devs, you can do it!!!

That’s some good, if somewhat condescendingly delivered, advice. It’s also not related to the problem here. The person they were sending the mail to did not die - his daughter did. I’m pretty sure that sssss called it - someone was using an address field for generic notes.

A company the size of Office Max almost certainly already has a procedure for removing dead people - I would be truly shocked if they did not.

It may be that the DB was missing a generic notes field, and either data entry got screwed up or there was a seriously bad merge, but I don’t think this particular error means that we need to spring for a fresh memento mori every time a new DBA gets hired

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Mistakes can happen and it’s bad they didn’t have appropriate procedures to prevent this, but the worst about this is that he was not believed in the first place and at the time of the article was yet to be apologised too. I think that’s inexcusable.


The sadder thing is that this will likely continue to happen for some time. Many years ago I had a small business registered to my home address. Some data entry monkey misspelled it in a database in a junk mail database and I started getting junk mail like this with a specific misspelling on it. I always knew it was junk without even opening it because of the error. I once received a sample address book with the misspelling embossed into the cover. The business has been closed for many years now and I continue to get occasional junk to that name. Once these errors get in “the system” they never go away.

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I see this kind of thing all the time, but now I’m terrified that there’s something like this floating about in our database waiting to hit.

Now, all of our addresses used in mailings should be normalized against the USPS database before being used, but I’m not sure if that will necessarily clean up Address2 (or these days, Address3) entries.

Many years ago when I was desperate for a job, I took employment with a collection agency. At some point during the year that I worked there I was tasked with setting up a mailing database for sending various collection notices. This eventually lead to a long, drawn out argument with one of the lead collectors over his insistence of inserting “Attention Debtor” or “This is an attempt to collect a debt” into address line 2. (Or worse.) He really didn’t seem to grasp that this was going to result in undeliverable mail, or possibly to a snafu like this one. As far as he was concerned, I was just trying to tell him how to do his job. I was very happy to get out of there!

(Odd fact: I was one of the few people there that lacked an actual criminal record. I’ve never been anywhere else in my life where the CEO and my boss casually discussed their cocaine usage like that.)


I’m sure that it is a mistake but it is a painful mistake for that father. That was my point, that the people who design these systems need to think about how little things like getting mail affect people. I don’t think it’s good enough to say to people that it was an error in data entry; it’s an error in the design of the program if a data entry person can’t use it properly, IMHO.

THAT is a good point!

Yeah, but a business person with half a brain in their head would bend over backwards to make nice with this guy anyway. Because brand. And a more positive press opp. And, at a cost far below what they probably paid for that crap mailing list in the first place.

Is that cold? Yep. But it also just happens to be the right thing to do, anyway. So far, the company is just telling us that their leadership is that clueless.

US Chamber of Commerce is a creepy company, altogether. They’re known to have paid other former government officials to pen legit-looking reports to support whatever view the USCOC wishes to promote. Then, they run around quoting their own pov as ‘according to top government experts’. And their own attorney? From DOW/Monsanto. There’s an underlying framework of pro support for much of this type of nonsense. Because, Bopal.

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