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A couple of days ago, to my utter surprise, I found out that I own a phantom Steam account.

I received one of those "Your Steam account: Access from new computer" messages and was horrified: despite all the security precautions (password manager, generated random password, offline database, Steam Guard authentication, etc.) someone had got into my precious Steam account. I was naturally suspicious of the email, checked its authenticity by examining the headers and content, but it was all legit. It really happened.

It took me a while to notice that the account name is not the one that I use on my Steam account. I used my alternative very similar alias, since when I created my account, my usual unusually unique nick had already been taken. I now know why. At some point back in time, as much as 10 years ago, I somehow created another account. The original one. Some Russian managed to brute force the password of that account, logged in, generating the email I received this week. It took a decade for this to happen. I guess I should thank the guy.

What bugs me is that I do not recall ever creating the first account nor is there any email trail of this ever happening. I have never had to wipe the linked Gmail account due to space constraints, since it just kept growing, so I have all mail I ever received through Gmail and the oldest emails predate the creation date of the phantom account - I was able to confirm it through Years of service badge after taking control of the account.

I only found two emails from the day of the phantom account creation. Quite suspiciously they are both from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and are related to ATI Customer Care Account creation (a thing back in 2007, apparently). The two games in the phantom account's library (Half Life 2 Lost Coast and Deathmatch) were not bought, but received as a gift - on this same day. The email tied to the account had never been verified. In fact I received zero emails from Steam until 2011, when I registered my main Steam account (in a slightly angered state, since someone had the nerve to pose as myself, now confirmed as actually being my humble self).

All of this leads me to believe that my phantom account was created as part of some other process - such as when registering a new graphics card in order to redeem a freebie which you then forget about.

So, have Steam accounts ever been silently created as part of some other registration process, perhaps by a partnered company, such as AMD, or am I overthinking this?

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    Or you forgot about it? It was 10 years ago – Sentry Jul 6 '17 at 9:20
  • @Sentry, always a possibility. But it doesn't explain the lack of email traces. – predi Jul 6 '17 at 9:56
  • I don't think back then places really e-mailed you with a "confirm this account" e-mail. To the very best of my knowledge, I've never heard of any platform that creates a Steam account for you. Obviously 10 years ago is a long time. I'd bet some fake internet points that you created it and have simply forgot about it. It's possible you signed up accidentally while playing a Valve game? Counter-Strike, TF2, HL2 all predate Steam, maybe Episode 1? Or Portal 2? – Tas Jul 6 '17 at 11:00
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    I want to say no. I'm fairly certain it's illegal for a company to take your information and silently create an account for you. You would have to at the minimum have approved the action, possibly via a checkbox that was worded "Yes - I want to have a Steam account. Sign me up!" - one of those type of things you see when installing software or what have you. Finding a source that details when this might occur is probably going to be really hard to find however. – Timmy Jim Jul 6 '17 at 11:19
  • It is also possible that I simply never received the "Welcome to Steam" message due to some technical issue at the time. Or a spam filter. – predi Jul 6 '17 at 11:57
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Steam accounts can not (legally) be created without knowing about it, unless someone else did it for you. Especially not with your username and some games in it. Since it has your unique name you most likely forgot about it. As far as I know the first accounts (way before HL2) didn't have to confirm their mail accounts right away, but at times of HL2 confirmation mails were sent (source: a bunch of own accounts).

That account owns HL2 games, so it has probably been created when the games were gifted to that account (or sooner). Those games require a Steam account, so there is no other way around. It is possible to create a Steam account in the process of gifting games. However, an e-mail will be sent to you when you receive a gift via e-mail. This mail can be sent to a different mail account, though.

You should still have received at least one e-mail to the address attached to that account. It's either about receiving a gifted game (account existed before) or a confirmation of your account creation, including the username.

So we can narrow down the issue:

  • you forgot about it
  • you lost or deleted the mail(s) from Steam (or it was flagged as spam and went into the nether)
  • both of the above
  • the account was created with a different mail and the mail was changed later
  • someone else has access to your mail and created it on your behalf (and deleted the e-mail)
  • Yes, this probably happened due to a series of unfortunate events. I read somewhere that back then Steam client was bundled with Catalyst drivers. I must have created the account for the free HL2, but didn't receive any confirmation mails, then forgot about it. It might have been due to disappointment, since it turned out that the freebie was just an HL2 episode, not the whole game, hence I never installed it and had no reason to use the account. Still, ten years of radio silence by the account is a bit odd. – predi Jul 7 '17 at 6:52
  • @predi Steam being silent is pretty much normal. I only receive e-mails when I do something (order or add games, change credentials, login notifications from Steam Guard, etc). We really get enough spam e-mails and Valve probably knows that and sticks to the notification window. – dly Jul 7 '17 at 6:58

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