Are You an Unwitting Spammer?

Category: Spam

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.
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 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:

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 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...

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

Posted by:

Buzz Marple
10 Apr 2012

I was a unwitting spammer awhile back and my contact list let me know it! Until I was able to create a new email account I sent a message stating that any mail from me would have by initials in the subject line and that way they would know it was from me personally. I also used Facebook to send messages to my contacts on FB until I got everything cleaned up.

Posted by:

10 Apr 2012

Thank you

Posted by:

10 Apr 2012

I recently had this happen to me. My computer was sending spam to numerous people in my address book.
My virus protection service identified it to be a Trojan virus, but couldn't remove it. I couldn't get rid of it myself, so I had a professional virus removal service do it for me. I haven't heard any complaints from anyone for a while, so I think it's finally gone. It cost me a coupe of bucks, but was well worth the money.

Posted by:

10 Apr 2012

Years ago I decided on the brute force tactic of not creating any email contact lists in my mail accounts. I have several such lists in a text file that I use to cut/paste as needed. I keep this with other sensitive files in a safe place. It's a bit more work, but I've never had problems with those lists.

Posted by:

Dean Rohs
10 Apr 2012

Hello Mr. Rankin,

I'm glad the subject of this article was about Spam. Because I'm having a problem with a Spammer I hope you can help me with.

I receive Spam everyday ~ Who doesn't, right? Most of it is already labeled as Spam and sent to the appropriate folder in my Gmail account. But one Spammer in particular has me puzzled.

The Spam is simple. The title is (no subject), and in the body is a single link that leads to a Canadian Pharmaceutical company. This is coming from a Yahoo account and I get them everyday from the exact same address.

I've tried to report this member to Yahoo, but in the past several weeks have had no luck finding any type of contact number or email address to do so. This seems to be a universal problem that many people are having with Yahoo. No way to contact them to report TOS violators.

Every Yahoo link involved in stopping Spam merely tells me to label it in my email program. I've done this, but what good is that if Yahoo does nothing to stop the abuser?

I also report every instance to SpamCop, posting the entire mail header and sending the generated reports to the suggested agencies. This also has no affect as the emails keep coming.

It seems to me that Yahoo would be interested to know about members who are abusing their free service by sending unsolicited email and they would be eager to cancel their accounts. Why is this not so? And why would Yahoo have no way for their members to contact them to report TOS violations?

This one particular Spammer has me on a mission. I want his Yahoo account cancelled and I want it cancelled NOW! This repeated abuse is not acceptable, even for a free service and I feel Yahoo has a responsibility to it's rule-abiding members to prevent this kind of intrusion from happening.

I've surfed the Net for programs to report, bounce or entirely block this Spam from reaching me, but have had little success.

Is there ANY way to report or forward these annoyances to the proper agency(s) to actually take action against this Spammer?

I rarely get repeat Spam in my Gmail account, and when I do the senders name has usually been changed to something similar ~ probably the result of being cancelled. This I can tolerate and completely understand. But this Spammer seems to have complete freedom to abuse the system without worry of cancellation.

Mr. Rankin, is there anything I can do to get this Spammer out of my hair?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Most likely, the FROM address is being spoofed, and it's not even a Yahoo sender. Regardless, you are fortunate that the sender is consistent. Just create a filter to block that address.

Posted by:

10 Apr 2012

Some times I receive a bounce back email message about an email account that could not be reached, but I didn't send any email to that account. could you tell me what is causing this and what could be done about it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ummmm, did you read the article here?

Posted by:

11 Apr 2012

A while back, I sent the same email to two friends to their work addresses. It showed them other emails that were blocked as spam, but supposedly sent from me. It ended up being suggested porn sites. I changed my password, which is quite strong, to an even stronger password and haven't had the problem again.
The two friends, (both female), luckily realized it wasn't me and notified me of the problem right away. Whew!

Posted by:

11 Apr 2012

My wife had this very issue awhile back with her Yahoo account, and kept getting emails from friends and family that she was sending out viruses. I swept her system with the regular AV, then went to MBAM, and got nothing. She finally contacted Yahoo, and after a few days they sent her a letter stating her Yahoo account was corrupt. They told her to close her old account and open a new account. But she wasn't locked out of her Yahoo account at all, so we were led to believe her email account on the Yahoo server itself was infected with a virus? So she did take their advice to open a new email account: with Gmail. No problems since.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'll bet the advice from Yahoo was boilerplate, and they didn't really know what the problem was. I love your solution! :-)

Posted by:

11 Apr 2012

Yeah, Fernando, did you READ it???
Thomas - did the girls enjoy the porn sites?
Jeff - did your wife also sweep your system?

Posted by:

12 Apr 2012

I now use numbers, not letters, to begin my email addresses. It has really helped me from getting spam mail or having other problems.

Posted by:

Dr. Rohan H. Wickramasinghe
13 Apr 2012

Thank you. This was very helpful.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2014

How can i identify whether my friend rejected my messages to spam folder?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think there's any way to know if a recipient sent your message to a spam folder, simply deleted it, or just never opened it.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are You an Unwitting Spammer? (Posted: 10 Apr 2012)
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