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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Find the email you want to trace in your Outlook inbox. Right-click on it. Select "Options" from the pop-up menu.
Find and open the email you want to trace in Gmail. Click the "More Options" link. Click "Show Original."
Click the Hotmail "Options" link. Click "Mail Display Settings." Find and open the email you want to trace.
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.
Log in to AOL to find and open the email you want to trace. Click the "Action" button. Select "View Message Source."
Opening Email Headers (Various Accounts)
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.
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.
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.
Paste the IP address you copied in your e-mail in the IP tracer's address field. Click the "Track IP" button.
Tracing an Email Route
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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