An off-and-on customer of OfficeMax, Mike Seay has gotten the office supply company's junk mail for years. But the mail that the grieving Lindenhurst, Ill., father said he got from OfficeMax last week was different.
It was addressed to "Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash."
Strange as that sounds, the mail reached the right guy. Seay's daughter Ashley, 17, was killed in a car crash with her boyfriend last year. OfficeMax somehow knew.
And in a world where bits of personal data are mined from customers and silently sold off and shuffled among corporations, Seay appears to be the victim of some marketing gone horribly wrong.
"I'm not a big OfficeMax customer. And I wouldn't have gone there and said anything to anybody there about it [the car crash]. That's not their business," Seay, 46, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview Sunday.
In a statement, OfficeMax said the mailing "is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider" and offered its apologies to Seay. A spokeswoman told The Times on Sunday that the company was still gathering information about what had happened.
The company, however, had not personally called Seay to apologize, Seay told The Times, and he has been worried about the company's behavior since he and his wife received the letter Thursday.
The letter seems to be some kind of discount offering, Seay said.
Seay said that he called an OfficeMax number Friday and that a manager at a call center refused to believe he'd been sent the letter addressed that way.
Then, he said, a spokeswoman for OfficeMax "acted the same way" shortly before he was interviewed by NBC-5 reporter Nesita Kwan on Friday. (Kwan told The Times she couldn't comment until she received approval from her supervisors.) The spokeswoman was more conciliatory after she received a photo of the envelope, Seay said.
Seay, who is unemployed, said that he isn't interested in suing OfficeMax, but that since his wife was "traumatized" by the letter, he wants an apology from the company's chief executive.
He also wants to know how OfficeMax got the information. The last thing Seay remembers buying at OfficeMax since his daughter's death last February is some paper.
"Why do they have that?" Seay said of the information about his daughter's death. "What do they need that for? How she died, when she died? It's not really personal, but looking at them, it is. That's not something they would ever need."
The nation has recently been riveted by the debate over how Americans' personal data is gathered by government agencies, and corporate data-mining has drawn concern as well.
Retail giant Target reportedly knows how to use its data to identify pregnant customers, and it recently lost tens of millions of customers' credit and debit card information to hackers, among other data.
Gatherers of consumer data also are reportedly selling off lists of rape victims and AIDS and HIV patients, a privacy group told Congress in December.
OfficeMax has not identified the company whose mailing list it used to send the letter to Seay.