How to Find Out Where Email Comes From

Written by maya austen
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How to Find Out Where Email Comes From
Tracing an Email (e-mail image by F/32 from

When you don't recognise the sender's e-mail address of an e-mail you receive, finding out where that e-mail originated from takes a little digging. It's not always possible without the aid of extraordinary resources to trace an e-mail back to the exact computer and person who sent it. As e-mail moves through the web bouncing from server to server and from sender to destination, they pick up signatures which mark the route they travelled. But some people--such as spammers--have learnt how to obscure this trail. Still, you have the ability to at least narrow down the origins of mystery e-mail.

Skill level:

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    Opening Email Headers (Various Accounts)

  1. 1

    Find the email you want to trace in your Outlook inbox. Right-click on it. Select "Options" from the pop-up menu.

  2. 2

    Find and open the email you want to trace in Gmail. Click the "More Options" link. Click "Show Original."

  3. 3

    Click the Hotmail "Options" link. Click "Mail Display Settings." Find and open the email you want to trace.

  4. 4

    Click the Yahoo! "Options" link. Click the "General Preferences" link. Find the "Headers" heading under "Messages." Choose "All." Find and open the email you want to trace.

  5. 5

    Log in to AOL to find and open the email you want to trace. Click the "Action" button. Select "View Message Source."

    Tracing an Email Route

  1. 1

    Examine your e-mail header. Each time your e-mail was transferred to a new server while in route to you, it was tagged with a new header entry. Your e-mail header will contain some or all of the following entry fields: "Received: from... by.... via... with... ID... for... date and time," with different values in place of each ellipsis. Every time you see the field "Received: from," it denotes the beginning of a new header.

  2. 2

    Scroll down to the last header listed in your e-mail. This was the first header your e-mail was tagged with. Copy the IP address listed in the "Received: from" field. IP stands for Internet Protocol and an IP address is a unique numerical identifier. Look for a series of numbers and periods contained within a bracket. This is the IP address of the original server that sent your e-mail.

  3. 3

    Use the "IP Address Tracer" (see Resources) to find out where your e-mail came from. The IP address tracer will let you know the general location (country, state, city and sometimes postcode) your e-mail originated from. It also provides the Internet services provider and organisation that sent it and the type of browser and operating system on the computer that sent your e-mail.

  4. 4

    Paste the IP address you copied in your e-mail in the IP tracer's address field. Click the "Track IP" button.

Tips and warnings

  • The domain name listed in the email header information can sometimes be manipulated, therefore they're not always trustworthy identifiers. IP addresses are more reliable.

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