How can I send anonymous email?

Anonymous email is both very easy do to, and yet also extremely difficult. The level of difficulty involved depends on the likelihood that someone would go the extra mile to identify you.

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I want to send email to a person I’m talking to on a dating service but I don’t want them to be able to get my real email address and find me. what do I do?

This is a relatively common question.

It’s also a fairly common news headline when someone who thought they were sending an anonymous message via email was found out.

Anonymous email is conceptually fairly simple, but once you dive into the details – the details that perhaps investigators and law enforcement might take advantage of – things get complicated quickly.

With no real negative implications implied, let me ask you: how paranoid are you?

Hiding the Email Address

Hiding your email address is, by far, the easiest thing of all.

Create a new email account at one of the free email services like Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo! or others.

Use completely fake information when setting it up. Fake name, fake location, fake birthday, fake everything. Make sure there’s nothing about that account that is in any way tied to you – even the email address that you choose.

Now, use that account to send your message.

Your “real” email address isn’t part of it, so it’s never sent. The email comes from this completely fake account.

You can keep it for a while to see if there’s any reply, if that matters to you, you you can immediately abandon it.

It seems simple because it is. And it answers exactly the question you asked: how to hide your email address.

But, as the late Paul Harvey would say, it’s time for the rest of the story.
Anonymous

There’s More To Email than Addresses

IP addresses scare a lot of people. Most are concerned that just about anyone can, given an IP address, easily locate the person who is using the computer at that IP address.

That’s simply not true.

However law enforcement can get very close. They can, with the help of the ISPs involved, locate the home or business to which an IP address has been assigned.

And your IP address is often included in the administrative information (aka “email headers”) that is included with every email that’s sent. It’s always sent if you use a desktop email program, and it’s sometimes included with email sent using web email providers.

For many people knowing the home or business associated with an IP address is as good as identifying who sent the email.

So, if you are concerned that the authorities or other investigative services might be involved, setting up that fake email account from your home might not be the best thing to do. It could still be identified as coming from your home.

The solution?

Go somewhere else. The further away from home the better. A library across town, for example, or perhaps a coffeeshop with free WiFi.

Anonymous Proxies and Services

One way that many people advocate sending anonymous communications is via an anonymous proxy or gateway. One example is TOR, The Onion Router. Like an onion a connection made through TOR is routed through several different computers, often all over the planet. Each step of the transmission is encrypted in such a way that the path through TOR can not be traced, and most importantly the source cannot be identified.

latency


Latency, at its simplest, is the time between a request being made and a response being received. It can also refer to the time it takes to get a message or action from one place to another. For example a slow internet connection might involve abnormally high
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As you might imagine, using a service like TOR adds significant latency – meaning it can be quite slow.

In addition to actual networking proxy services there are online services that will send messages on your behalf, presumably without any information that could be used to personally identify you.

The biggest concern with any anonymous proxy or service is security and privacy. How will the provider respond when faced with legal action requiring them to expose the source of any particular communication. Many will not hand over such information, and some are even set up so that they can’t.

But you’re trusting them at a very fundamental level. Personally that’s something that I would have a difficult time doing.

And like the coffee shop, it might still not be enough.

There May Be Even More to Email than IPs and Addresses

Some email programs will include in the email headers the name of the computer on which it’s being run.

For example the name of the computer I’m typing on right now is “NOTENQUAD”. That’s how I identify it on my local network, and a simple setting in computer properties to setup.

When I send email using my desktop email program it is possible that the name – “NOTENQUAD” in my case – will be included in the email headers. This happens either as an association with the IP address on my local network (NOTENQUAD is the name assigned to the machine’s local IP address), or it’s simply included as a standalone header by the email program.

Now, the name of the machine email was sent from isn’t necessarily enough to identify you by itself. But used in conjunction with other information it could be.

You might send your boss regular correspondence on a daily basis, but if as part of investigating an anonymous email he received he determines that it came from the same machine that your normal email comes from – i.e. your machine – that’s a bit of a give-away.

In fact, correlating the characteristics of one anonymous email message with an email message from a known source is a common way to narrow down, if not identify, the source of the message. Everything from nuances in the email header to your actual writing style and common spelling and typographic errors can all contribute to a so-called “anonymous” email being identified as yours.

The Practical Reality

Your original question involved online dating. As long as there’s no reason to get the authorities involved, I think it pretty darned unlikely that you need to do anything more than set up an anonymous email account for this purpose. In fact, it’s a very reasonable precaution for this as well as several types of online connections to people that you don’t know, and it’s easy to do.

On the other hand, if you’re a political dissident, or involved in corporate espionage or other significantly more sensitive situations involving significantly more sensitive information, you may want to think long and hard about the best way to make those contacts. If powerful entities have a reason there are often techniques, some of which I’ve touched on above, that can be used to possibly identify you if you’re not careful.

This is an update to an article originally posted : January 9, 2005

There are 65 comments:

  1. Anonym Reply

    If it’s easy to set up an anonymous email account, does that mean it is nearly impossible to find someone’s real name by an email address. Question is…if my husband has set up an anonymous email for himself & he wants to keep private can I find the email address or not?

  2. Leo Reply

    In the general sense – it would be extremely difficult. Nearly impossible for most. It normally takes some kind of “extra” knowledge — like access to the computer used when using the account, or assistance from the anonymous email provider (which typically happens only as the result of a court order).

  3. anonymous email Reply

    I can recommend you myTrashMail.com for all your anonymous emailing. Its free and they have several other email services like rss email and temporary email.

  4. hitman Reply

    hi, first im amazed that u can handle all these questions and helping all those people gr8 job!but like the others i have a question too lol im sorry if u awnsered it befor but i searched and didnt find it so here goes, do u know how i can send an anonymous email by that i mean whateveriwant@whateveriwant.wateveriwant, thanx for ur help and again gr8 job! bye

  5. Leo Reply

    As the article states, the easiest way to send anonymous email is to set up a free email account with hotmail or other free email provider, using made-up information. Most techniques for using an arbitrary domain (as in @whateveriwant.wateveriwant) can be complicated, and could still be traced to the email account you used. Just create and use a free acount.

  6. D. Reply

    Your site came highly recommended. Thanks for your time.
    My question is, I have created an anonymous yahoo email account with anonymous profile information etc.
    I now hear that the company who has received the one and only email I have sent from that account (which has now been deleted) has contracted someone to ‘trace’ the origins of my email.
    Am I safe or should I be worried? Are there any further precautions that I should take?
    Thanks again!

  7. Debra Reply

    If I set uup an email on yahoo (like the above one I have) no one can tell it came from my home computer. I was interested because if you chat with people and then decide to start emailing I wouldn’t want them to trace where I was.

  8. Tiffany Reply

    So, can an email account from an anonymous hotmail account be traced back from the computer at which the account was set up?

  9. tiffany Reply

    What about tracing it back to the internet service through which it was set up? Can the public do that without a court order?

  10. Leo Reply

    You can trace it back to hotmail, and that’s as far as you can get, so in short … no.

  11. anonymous email Reply

    I never would send my anonymous “hate” mails via yahoo. American companies are forced by law to keep records. If a judge order yahoo to disclose information about your email….then good night.

    You better use a free email service somewhere located in the Bahamas ;)

  12. Chris Reply

    Well, I would like to believe that sending and email from Hotmail means that you are anonymous but that is not what I have heard. This site http://www.johnru.com/active-whois/trace-email.html for one, informs users how to locate the IP address of the original sender, so I would have to say that your information here, that your IP cannot be traced without Microsoft’s help is not correct.

  13. Leo Reply

    For mail sent using Hotmail, the instructions you point to will only find the IP address of a HotMail server, and NOT the IP address of the computer that was used to compose and send the original email. I stand by my article.

  14. immad Reply

    whenever i telnet to port 25 of yahoo.it is connected but after helo when i write mail from.a message “530 authentication required for help go to help.yahoo.com” appears.what kind of problem is this.does any body know.
    immad

  15. Leo Reply

    I would take it to mean that Yahoo doesn’t want you telneting in to send email. You’ll need to use an email client that supports sender authentication, and use yoru Yahoo account.

  16. AK Reply

    What do you think of sites like: http://www.mailedto.com?
    Do you think that ‘does the trick’in terms of staying anonymous?
    Obviously this is for people that don’t need or
    want a response back.

  17. Leo Reply

    I don’t know the service specifically. I’d set up an account, send an email to my regular account, and examine the resulting headers to see how truly anonymous it is.

  18. Tam Reply

    To test this out, I just set up a Hotmail account and sent myself an email. There, in the headers, was my IP address clear as day.

    Perhaps this wasn’t true when the original article was written, but it’s certainly there now. :-)

  19. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    And apparently not always there. But you are correct, I would now avoid Hotmail for this purpose.

  20. Fabio Rockefeller Reply

    I can’t believe what I’ve been reading about not being able to trace an e-mail distributed from Yahoo or Hotmail back to a PC. Of course you can. The source IP (as well as the IP for Yahoo and Hotmail) is in the full headers.

    And once that IP address is available, what can happen to you is limited only to the skills and desires of the person who know it. I use free web-based geolocator services, coupled with post office carrier routes, to ascertain the physical residence for the IP and the street address associated with that residence. There’s supposed to be a 155 meter margin of error for geolocating, but after typing that address into a personal information search engine with reverse address lookup (e.g. Intelius.com / Infobel.com), I got some names and Google search on these names helped turn up evidence that helped me establish with 90% plus probability that person as the source of the e-mail.

  21. nicky Reply

    some one sent me a fake email,meaning the email was sent to me from a weired email adress which does not exist on the net ,how can he do that?
    can i too do the same??

  22. Josh Saunders Reply

    Right, Did you know that within the header of messages sent via Hotmail, Yahoo and others reveals your REAl IP address? That is a trail right back to you. If you want to send real anonymous email messages use a service like Ultimate-Anonymity http://www.ultimate-anonymity.com as messages sent through them are truly anonymous and not traceable back to you. They also provide “disposable email addresses” which means you can setup addresses as will, use them ,then delete them when done.

  23. Tapi Oka Reply

    Ultimate Anonymity has been around for 10 years or more. I think I signed up with them in 98 or 99 and I still use them on a regular basis. Very good outfit in my opinion with some really cool software and services.

    TO

  24. Gerold Reply

    I just signed up for Ultimate Anonymity. Very cool site. Its service strips the headers and allows you to send an anonymous email and make the ‘from’ line anything you want. You can do this from their secured web form or download software and send anonymous messages right from your desktop. There are some really cool tools there.

  25. Tobi Reply

    Thanks for the heads up on Ultimate Anonymity. Seems they deliver exactly what they promise. Very good service and the Anonymous Remailer appears to be VERY reliable.

  26. Simba Reply

    You probably did get a spam trap as they ae not uncommon. Also, neither one of those are on a secured (SSL) page which renders them useless and not private. Ultimate Anonymity provides a sample of their secured web based remailer at https://ultimate-anonymity.com/web-based-remailer.htm

    It being just a sample will allow you to send yourself a message so you can view the headers to see it is really anonymous however, your message will be replaced with a plug (it is a sample). the subscribers interface has no plugs or advertisements in the header OR the message. I also like the fact that you can manipulate the “from” Line to appear as anything you desire.

  27. Ziggie Reply

    IP Tracking is notoriously unreliable.

    E.G. I live in the MidWest but my IP address places me on the West Coast.

  28. Sue Reply

    Finally I found an anonymous email service that is totally free and simple to use, no forms to fill out. It’s great.
    go to: ENOTE.com

  29. Selif Reply

    Beware of confusing pseudo anonymity with real anonymity. Any “anonymous email service”, especially those that you have to pay for or use web forms, has limited anonymity at best. That anonymity CAN be broken, sometimes with a simple court order or even a letter from an attorney threatening legal action. True anonymity on the other hand is much more secure if you exercise proper care.

    The path to truly anonymous email begins with learning about PGP (or GnuPG which does the same thing free and open source) encryption and Mixmaster remailers.

  30. Ron Reply

    Hi,

    Would like to comment on Ultimate-Anonymity.Com.

    The provided Remailer works just fine. You can use anyname@anything.anywhere. It doesn’t have to be .com or .org or .net. You can use Yourname@YourStreetName.WhateverYouLike and the delivery time is not so bad (quick, for such service). Some other similar services can’t even get your anonymous email delivered AT ALL.

    A spam? I don’t know, but my opinion, it looks like it BUT they gather much information for subscribers. Mostly, it’s free information on the net if you know how to find it, but then again if you ask me to find such information, it’ll take me ages to simplify it. That, I’ll agree.

    As for their LIFETIME subscription, I think this is a way to draw you closer to use it. I read some reviews and it looks like they’ve been offering this LIFETIME issue since the day they activate their website. But then again, I could be wrong, since I only observe their website around 2008-2009.

    They’ll give you some useful software. I don’t know if they are cracked or not, but they work just fine.

    They will give a detail about how to surf anonymously and provide some working proxy servers and TOR. (Now this TOR is a free service, so this proves that they provide free information for a price, IF you don’t know how to find one.)

    They will provide you with web-based proxy sites if you don’t know how to configure your browser(s). All is about information.

  31. Cordelia Reply

    The person who wrote the intital article is clearly not up to scratch although some of the commenters seem to be..

    It’s too complicated to briefly explain, but basically unless you take some very explicit steps, your real IP address can be viewed in the email header (check source) and this is traceable back to you.

    If you use an anonymity service, it is also traceable back to you if you have paid with a credit card, Paypal or any service based in Europe or the USA.

  32. Matrix Reply

    The above comments about https://ultimate-anonymity.com are utter rubbish. How can any web site that asks for any personal details, especially totally traceable Credit Card details claim ultimate anonymity????!!! Truly ridiculous.

  33. Rusto Jambles Reply

    Ive used ultimate-anonymity [broken link removed] for years wiff no problems at all. They actually provide their own proxy which is quite fast (not to mention reliable) and works on both http and https (SSL) pages. they provide anonymous usenet access, Anonymous email and sms text messaging all of which I use on a regular basis. For the one time price you just cant beat it. I paid with cash through the mail using a one time disposable email address. They been around since 1997 so that has to count for something.

  34. John Reply

    You can actually send anonymous email quite easily using Gmail, which doesn’t provide the IP of the sender (although as is mentioned many times on this website, you need more than just an IP to track someone down). If you are still concerned about IP tracing though, it takes about 5 minutes to set up a Gmail account.

  35. Canadiana Reply

    Well, the IP address can be traced by yahoo, gmail etc.. and even by Proxy services providers, the solution is to use a public place such Internet Caffee where you create a new account and at you send any email you want nobody can trace you except if you open the email account at your place then you provide your IP address again to the email provider…

  36. celeste Reply

    What happened to enote.com? It’s the only anonymous email that actually worked…

  37. George Reply

    I use sneakemail.com.

    Type in some identification of the place you want to send your e-mail.

    Sneakemail.com produces a combination of random letters and numbers @sneakemail.com

    When you are done with that particular sneakemail address, just delete it from your sneakemail.com list.

    None of the hoops for setting up a regular e-mail address.

    I use this particularly with merchants, when spam is sent to that sneakemail address, I just delete it and get no more spam in that mailbox.

  38. Ken B Reply

    I’ve been using sneakemail.com for a few years now, for just such purposes as “George” notes. Unfortunately, they no longer offer a free service, but at $2/month, I find it very useful for signing up for many things online. First, if I get spam on that address, I know exactly where it came from (or who sold the address). Second, I can disable that address with a few clicks of the mouse.

    Of course, getting back to the “political dissident” or “corporate espionage” part of the equation, remember that they have your “real” e-mail address, and know which “anonymous” addresses are associated with it. Also, I know that incoming e-mails do not hide the IP address trail of the e-mail, because my spam reporting tools follow the chain beyond sneakemail’s servers. I have a feeling that outgoing e-mails do so as well.

  39. snert Reply

    Is it possible to change the computers name? Your computer doesn’t care what it’s called and I believe if it’s not a part of a LAN you wouldn’t be messing anything up by doing just that.

    You absolutely can, I’m just not 100% convinced that – purely from the anonymity standpoint – it would help in all cases. Completely making this up, but for example perhaps there might be traces of the “old” name left on the machine that might be used by an investigator to be able to say “OH! Your machine WAS named NOTENQUAD at the time the email was sent, even though it’s named SOMETHINGELSE now!”

    Leo
    25-Nov-2012
  40. Kevin Reply

    Hi Leo
    Great article and for once I will say very interesting comments. Alas I am too old to worry about this sort of thing. But my gut feeling is that you are right as usual. Once one leaves a trail it can be backtracked regardless. Nevertheless it is possible that some of the remedies in comments may well be successful on a superficial level.
    If I may revert to the Questioner, I would have to ask what would happen if this liaison turned out to be successful. Surely the deception would be found out, unless of course the recipient was a complete moron :-)

    My take on the dating scene (which, I’ll readily admit, I’ve not been in for close to 35 years) is that initial anonymity on online dating sites not only makes sense, but should be totally understood as acceptable by all parties concerned. It’s general knowledge that you just don’t know what you’re getting into, and that keeping things at arms length until you’re comfortable is a valid and proper way to protect yourself from … well, from who knows what. Same applies for things like Craigslist ads and other online services that connect two random people.

    Leo
    25-Nov-2012
  41. James Reply

    When I was in college, a friend thought I could use another friend and so she gave my email address to her sister (whom I had never met). Her sister sent the most depressing emails. I only got out of it when I stopped using that ISP. So I understand the questioner’s concern about giving out her real email address.

    That situation left me skeptical, so much so that when another friend thought her cousin could use another friend, I almost didn’t agree to giving out my email address, for fear of the same thing happening.

    I’m glad I consented and used a Yahoo email address. This new friend turned out to be the woman to whom I’ve been married the last 12 years.

    No need to be fake, just disposable. Most people don’t have enough power or influence to get your info from your ISP/email provider.

  42. Rajan Reply

    Since IP address is a source to find my location, how can I find out my IP address and of the one who has sent me e-mail, say “spam mail” ?

    You can find out your own IP address via various online services, including this article: What’s my IP address?. The email address of the sender of an email may (and I have to stress may) be in the hidden headers of the email messages. How do see those depends on your email program. And as I said, there’s actually no guarantee that the IP address of the sender will be there.

    Leo
    25-Nov-2012
  43. pedro Reply

    One suggestion was to go to a library. Be aware of video cameras. The time email sent or account created can be determined. Get surveillance video and they have the author. I believe , Yahoo and maybe others keep a record of the IP address used to create the account .

  44. Zoë Reply

    Please do not encourage lying. I disagree with it because of my faith and a Commandment. How would you like to be lied to? In a way magic is lying (the stuff is trickery and a waste).

    • Leo Reply

      With all due respect to your faith, whistleblowers are one case that I believe strongly calls for the ability to send anonymous mail. Yes, they are lying about who they are – to allow important information to be exposed, and in some cases to save their own lives (as in oppressive political regimes).

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