Are You an Accidental Spammer?

Category: Spam

A concerned email user asks: 'Several of my friends have complained that I am sending them spam emails. I have 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?' Read on for the scoop...

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 may be misappropriating your email address, but they don't have access to your email inbox or contacts. Still, it's not time to relax.

Evil Spamming Robots

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 to your email service provider. They 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:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: Technical details of permanent failure: Message rejected. See for more information.

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 have been hacked. The password of a compromised account may be changed, 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 first thing you should do is change all of the user-authentication information. Create a new (hopefully stronger) password, and if available, change the answers to your challenge questions. Even better, turn on two-factor authentication for your account. For help creating a secure password, see my related article Is Your Password Hacker Proof?.

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 an evil spamming robot (malware) on your computer. Whenever you suspect that your email account has been compromised, you should run a full scan using one of these free anti-virus tools.

Do you have something to add to this topic? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are You an Accidental Spammer?"

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: Technical details of permanent failure: Message rejected. See for more information.

(Only joking, Bob!)

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

"If your contacts are getting spam from you, then your email account may have been hacked." Actually, it may have been a friends email that was hacked.

What happens is that a spammer somehow gets a copy of an email, from a hacked account or otherwise. The spammer randomly picks one of the names/email addresses in that stolen email and uses that as the FROM address in the spam emails. Then they send spam email to the other users in the FROM, TO, CC addresses from the stolen email. So your friends may get an email that looks like it came from you but is actually spam.

I see this all the time. Unfortunately, there really anything you can do about it.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

We have an ISP that allows "throwaway addresses".

We have never disclosed or used our "real" email address...ever.

At least if an address we use is ever spoofed we can just abandon that throwaway, create another and notify contacts.

(I realize this won't help if the account is hacked, so we take all possible precautions to avoid that happening).

Or am I wrong? Am I not as secure as I think?

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

After reading Charley's comment it reminded me of another way we used our throwaway addresses.

A number of friends were hacked and we started to receive messages from "them" that just contained a link.

We went ahead and deleted the throwaway address and made another and let our contacts know.

It stopped the messages coming to our inbox as the initial emailaddress no longer existed.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

I have seen this type of article before. If the sender's account has not been hacked, how are the spam emails going to the addresses in their contact list? It can't be random addresses. I never get an answer to that.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

Bart, if it is going to every address in your contact list, then you are correct that your contact list had to have been hacked. But if it just going to some contacts, all the spammer needs is an email that included you and those contacts in it.

By the way, your contacts get uploaded by a number of apps on your phone. I hate that! LinkedIn will take all your contacts. Facebook will take all your contacts. Etc.

On my Android phone, I go in and modify the permissions on apps to remove the ability for the app to access my contacts. I only leave it for a few apps that really need it (email, phone, text messaging, etc.)

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

As I understand this, maybe your friends account was hacked, not yours.

The hacker gets YOUR contact list from a message you sent to your friend PLUS the other addresses that you (may) have added in the CC (i.e. names from your contact list).

Presto, the hacker has at least a part of your contact list and your email address.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

The first time I ever had an issue with spamming was back in 1997, when I was using AOL has my Internet provider. I almost got my account shut down it was so bad. My email account was being used for spamming, someone had gotten my password and was using my email address for spamming purposes. Yes, spamming was going on way back then and I am sure even earlier.

I wasn't careless with my password, it really was too simple. Even with that knowledge it still took me awhile to learn how to create a strong password. I changed my password and honestly, did not have any more issues with my email spamming others, just other's email addresses spamming me! That was happening a lot on AOL, at that time.

Since, I stopped using AOL and started using BellSouth's ISP services and their email service, I have not had a spamming issue in a long, long time. Now, I would get spamming emails from my friend's emails, but I wasn't part of the spamming.

Let me explain how other's email addresses can be the problem with spamming. Spammers can hack just one email address but they will look for all of the contact that is located in the hacked email address. Using those addresses and all of the extended list of addresses that many send out to all of their family and friends. . .This is what starts the massive spamming of all those on your email lists and their lists as well.

I know all of that sounds outlandish, but it is part of the whole truth to spamming. As Bob said, your email address may just have been a random computerized creation of an email address, where the spammers find a "hit" and use those "hit" addresses.

The main reason I don't get the type of spamming that I use to get is that I rarely email anybody today. Everything is communicated by Facebook, Twitter and the like, not email anymore. I am fine with all of that. I now use my email for important things like communication from my doctors, drug stores, financial institutions and some computer and political newsletters/blogs. I am happy with that, too.

I also have several email addresses and some are "throwaways" which is always a sound idea. }:O)

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

Just a note about good passwords.

It really is important that you learn how to create good passwords. You can learn to do this yourself or use a well respected Password Keeper which can generate passwords for you and keep them in a secure place for when you need to use the generated password.

I use both LastPass and Roboform for keeping my passwords safe and have the ability to fill in my passwords when I need them. Some will say. . .You only need one good Password Keeper. I do agree, but I have used LastPass for years and decided to start using Roboform. You can sync all you want, but some passwords will just not sync. So, right now I have 2 Password Keepers.

I am thinking that I like Roboform better than LastPass but in all honesty, both are excellent Password Keepers. I mainly went to Roboform because LastPass doubled their annual subscription price and Roboform was cheaper, especially for the multiple years price. Yes, Roboform is a paid Password Keeper, as was LastPass until this past January.

I trust both of these Password Keepers and do recommend that everyone uses one. Not only for their protection but for their peace of mind.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2018

As in Love, security/privacy is a many-splendored thing!
In the past few weeks, BobRankin had already recommended the use of the “Bcc…” [aka BlindCarbonCopy] field, rather than the ‘Cc…’ field in mass emails. I may have grown up overly security conscious (to the point of paranoia), so I prefer not to even keep my contacts in any web or cloud-based email clients.
BTW >> Does anyone know the ‘Bacon Number’ for google?

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
15 Feb 2018

Charlie, in a post at the beginning of these posts, said:

"If your contacts are getting spam from you, then your email account may have been hacked." Actually, it may have been a friends email that was hacked.

He is correct that someone else's email was hacked or they have a virus, someone that had your email address in their contact list. To PROVE that is correct, take the more "obvious" situation in that it appears YOUR computer has a virus. Why would a spammer infect YOUR computer with a virus that sends out spam with your return email address? That makes no sense since the virus could be immediately found and removed. By infecting someone else's computer that happens to have your email address in their contact list and by using your email address as the return address, it's MUCH more difficult to figure out who has the virus.

Posted by:

16 Feb 2018

The whole thing with having your address hacked is the long term problem. I've had a certain hotmail account since 1997. Apparently, a couple of years ago someone found out it was a live one. I now get email for some doctor in Florida, a woman who apparently does real estate, even got a bill for "my" yacht cleaning. I try to clue in the companies that are sending the stuff and I unsubscribe from all the many lists that these people all join but it's a headache. I'm not willing to give up the email address and I can't understand why someone would sign up for important email with an address they can't access. (changed the password to just a random string of gobbledygook. I even got a document that C**** was supposed to sign for his condo purchase. I make sure I handle those as if I were a security professional in that person's employ, as I really believe that's right. Please everyone, make sure you have a super strong password before you get compromised. KeePass is my strongbox and it will generate strong passwords although I usually end up tweaking the military related ones which are far beyond ridiculous.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2018

A big problem is people that forward an email using Cc instead of Bcc, and all those addresses are there for the taking. I once got an email from a friend that had 67 email addresses. Also,sometimes they do not delete the addresses before forwarding .
Even supposedly informed 'internet experts' are sometimes guilty of this.

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