I keep getting “strange” emails from someone using a Hotmail account. How do I find out who they really are?
Hotmail is one of the most used (and abused) mail systems on the planet. One of the reasons why is because it’s nearly impossible to tell who really owns a Hotmail account.
There are situations where I believe it’s possible to find the owner of a Hotmail account, but it’s difficult and you won’t like what it takes.
First, let’s look at why it’s so hard to determine the owner of a Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail … or any free email account for that matter.
Sign up for one and as you’re doing so, lie. Lie about everything. I mean make up every last bit of information that Hotmail asks you for when you create an account. Make sure it’s all completely bogus. When you’re done, you’ll have a working Hotmail account that has no information that would relate to you in any way. None.
So if someone creates a Hotmail account this way, there’s no way to tell who they really are from the account information, because like you just did, they could have just made it all up.
There’s one, small, thin thread of information that might give a clue, however: the IP address from which the account was created. And it may not help at all. Why? An IP address does not specify a name or a location, only a computer. The IP address could change, it could be a router or proxy server for thousands of users or the computer could be a public computer, such as those at a library. And, of course, you’d need the folks out at Hotmail to tell you what IP address had been used.
The upshot is that an IP address is not a way for normal folk like you and me to identify anyone. And as such an IP address is useless to you and me to identify a Hotmail account owner.
And as such an IP address is useless to you and me to identify a Hotmail account owner.
If, and it’s a big if, an IP address could be traced to a specific user or location, it requires the cooperation of the ISPs and perhaps others involved. Due to privacy laws, ISPs will not divulge this information to anyone without a good reason. And “a good reason” usually means that a) the account was used for something illegal, b) you involve law enforcement, and c) they then turn around and get a court order to have the ISP or other entities release the information – if the information is even available.
Remember also that many spammers and viruses masquerade as email coming from Hotmail accounts. Even if you could track down the owner of the account, they might not even have been involved.
The practical answer is no, you cannot tell who owns a Hotmail account.
So what do you do?
If you’re receiving harassing, threatening, or otherwise potentially illegal email, then by all means, involve the appropriate authorities.
Otherwise, the Delete key is your friend. My approach would be to delete the mail immediately and ignore it completely. If your email program supports it, I’d even create a rule to automatically delete the mail from that account as it arrives or blacklist it on my spam filter.