Are You an Unwitting Spammer?
A concerned email user asks: Several of my friends have complained that I am sending them spam emails. I've looked in my Sent folder and nothing odd shows up there. How can this be happening? Is it possible that someone has hacked into my email account, or is there another explanation?
Help, I Think I'm a Spammer!
Are you getting replies to email messages that you never sent? Friends complaining that you're spamming them? Are you receiving "bounce" messages from email servers about messages to non-existent accounts that you don't recognize? Do you find messages in your junk-mail folder sent from yourself? If any of these things happens to you, you may be an unwitting participant in spam.
Your email account may NOT have been hacked. Sometimes, spammers "spoof" their victims by inserting a random email address in the "From" field of their spam. Spammers use mass emailing software that can insert any desired email address as the sender, and pretend to be "you" even if they're half a world away. Bounced messages that you don't recall sending are probably such spoofs. Spammers are using your email address, but they don't have access to your email inbox or contacts. Still, that's no reason to relax.
You may find yourself on a blacklist if thousands of people receive annoying spam ostensibly from your email address. Google's GMail is one email service provider that authenticates all the mail that is really sent from your address, so that receiving email servers won't block all mail from your address.
Spoofing is a form of identity theft, and it should be reported as such to the Federal Trade Commission and your email service provider. Your email service provider may be able to implement protections for your email address, such as the Sender Policy Framework.
If your email address is blacklisted by another email service or internet service provider, you may not be able to send messages to people who use that provider. For example, you might be a Comcast user, and your emails to Mom (who uses Gmail) are being returned with messages like this:
Usually, you can contact the administrators and explain that your address was spoofed. In many cases, they will unblock you. If you can't find an appropriate link in the bounce message or on their website, send an email to "postmaster" at that domain.
Have You Been Hacked?
If your contacts are getting spam from you, then your email account may very well have been hacked. The first thing to do is attempt to log in to your email account. Often, spammers will change a hacked account's password, so if you cannot get into your own account that is a good sign that you have been hacked. You will have to go through the "forgot password" re-authentication process for your email provider, to establish your ownership of the account and regain access.
If you regain control of your email account, the very first thing you should do is change all of the user-authentication information. Create a new (hopefully stronger) password, and change the answers to your "secret questions." For help creating a secure password, see my related article Is Your Password Hacker Proof? for help with choosing a secure password.
If you cannot regain access to your email account, then you will have to abandon it. Create a new email account and start all over again. This is why you should make a backup copy of your contacts list on a regular basis. Of course, in either case you will also have to explain to all of your contacts that the spam did not come from you.
It's also possible that your email account was hijacked by a evil spamming robot on your computer. (See Warning, Danger: Botnets!. I get dozens of emails every day from people who are infected in this manner. Most of the emails have no subject, they contain just a link with no other text, and the "To:" field is a list of 6-8 email addresses in alphabetical order. Whenever you suspect that your email account has been compromised, you should run a full scan using MBAM or your preferred anti-malware program.
Do you have something to add to this topic? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 10 Apr 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are You an Unwitting Spammer? (Posted: 10 Apr 2012)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved