Help, My Friends Think I'm a Spammer

Category: Email

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 answer to this mystery...

Are You an Unwitting 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.

First, your email account may NOT have been hacked. Often, 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. They probably got your email address from one

Evil Spamming Robots

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 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: your_mother@gmail.com Technical details of permanent failure: Message rejected. See http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=69585 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 it's possible your email account may 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 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 How Hackable is Your 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 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 your favorite anti-virus tool. Do you have something to add to this topic? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Help, My Friends Think I'm a Spammer"

Posted by:

BaliRob
27 Jan 2020

This happened to all of my Contacts when Yahoo was hacked and 500 million accounts suffered. 50% of my Contact List received s*x Product offers from the famous Canadian company and the other 50% some nondescript garbage


Posted by:

Charlie
27 Jan 2020


Hi Bob,
Keep up with your Good work!
I look forward everyday in receiving your emails,with the updated information on technology.
Best Regards,
Charlie


Posted by:

Colin Isaacs
27 Jan 2020

This happened a couple of years ago to my company email address. I was receiving dozens of email bounces resulting from messages that I did not send to people I did not know. I have also seen it happening from government email addresses where I am the recipient of one of the spoof emails. It is clearly a problem that crooks can spoof email addresses but after a week or so the problem went away even though there was nothing I could do or did about it. There was no evidence that the crooks had my address book so it would only have been by chance that any of my clients would have received one of the spoofed emails. It turned out that the whole thing was a minor nuisance but not the end of the world. I did not change my email address which would have been a real pain.


Posted by:

Charley
27 Jan 2020

It's usually not that your email was hacked, although that can happen.

What I have seen happen to me and friends is that a spammer somehow gets a copy of an email that happens to have your email address in it (as the sender, one of the recipients, one of the CCs, etc.). Maybe one of your friends was hacked. Then the spammer picks one of the names in the email to use as the From address in their spams. They send the spams to the other addresses in the email. So your friends get what appears to be an email from you address to people that you would normally email. Thus they are more likely to open and look ad look at the email, and maybe click on a link in the email.

Since email usually has no security on the From addresses, this is easy to do.


Posted by:

David Solomons
27 Jan 2020

In many cases the spam has your name at the top (but it is not your genuine email account) - this will be due to things such as the yahoo data attack in which your address book has been stolen by hackers.
If someone complains of such a thing let them know this and ask them to check whether the email account from which they received the spam was actually not your own email address (ask them to hover their mouse over the email address to confirm this).
There is no way to get the hacker to delete the stolen address book since it is worth money to them, but at least you may have educated your friend ...


Posted by:

David
27 Jan 2020

We have this problem, with one of the largest UK ISPs, TalkTalk. Our IP address was on various blacklists.

They told me that for cost saving, they only offer dynamic IP addresses so that, because less than 100% of their customers are logged on at any time, they can rent fewer IP addresses than subscribers. Airlines do it with seat bookings.

At each log-on a recycled IP address is allocated, some will come from customers who have got that IP onto blacklists.

When a customer logs off and back onto the system the ISP tries to reconnect the previous IP address unless it's been reallocated. To get a different IP it's necessary to be logged off for several hours, so losing a tainted IP can be a very long process.

Contacting blacklists may 'sanitise' my current IP address but sooner or later I'll lose that address and receive a new one with possibly the same problem.

Statistically over a long period more and more IP addresses will become tainted until they all are.

I concluded that trying to get a 'clean' IP would create long-term regular hassle, and coping with rejected emails would be less work. 'Coping' is not a solution but sometimes it's the easiest answer.


Posted by:

Georgia
27 Jan 2020

I thought the computer age was supposed to save everybody so much time by handling all the gritty drudge work. Here's another good example of how (fill in any quantity) of hours of time is wasted every day.


Posted by:

MartinW
27 Jan 2020

This happened to me MANY years ago. I clicked on a vacation pictures link in an AOL email from someone I thought was a moderately distant relative. (As I said, long ago when I wasn't nearly as security conscious.) Over the next week I got at least one or two emails from people asking why I was sending them junk and demanding I stop bothering them. I contacted AOL, changed my password, and checked for more problems. Nothing like that has occurred since, although I have numerous email addresses used for different purposes. CROSS MY FINGERS and never click an unknown link or accept anything without checking.


Posted by:

StgCoach
27 Jan 2020

I am included in a number of groups whose email addresses appear in the "To:" field of the messages we receive. Not only does that share our email addresses whether we wanted it or not, it also (seems to me) makes it easier for those email addresses to be grabbed somehow and spoofed. And of course, it also encourages the sending of the dreaded "replies to all."

When I answer or forward one of those messages, I delete the monster list of addressees in the copy of the original message. I hope that reduces, if ever so slightly, the security risk of having all those addresses out there for the spoofing.


Posted by:

Mike Secker
27 Jan 2020

I am consistently receiving advertising e-mails from "apparently" "askbobrankin.com". Does this mean you have been hacked?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, it means the "From" line is forged.


Posted by:

Jillian S
28 Jan 2020

It has happened from time to time that I get email that is obviously not from the person it purports to be from. What is more confusing is getting "friend" requests on Facebook from people one is already "friends" with. And it happened in reverse, when a relative received such a request from me. Why does this happen and what should one do? (I did nothing.)


Posted by:

Charley
28 Jan 2020

Jillian, spammers will clone an account on Facebook. It is easy to do, especially if you don't have all your Facebook privacy settings just right. So the spammer creates an account that looks the same your "friend" copying as much information as they can from your real friend, and then sending out friend requests. If you are not careful, you accept them and then they have access to your info that you have shared with friends.

Not much you can do about this except to be careful accepting friend requests, and never accept a friend request from someone you are already friends with without contacting them through another means (phone, email, etc.) to verify what's going on.


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