Hi, Leo. I’ve been facing harassment through email for the past three
months. I can’t even find the IP address saying it’s a private network. Due to
this, I removed my Gmail account yesterday, but I want to know: who is the
In this excerpt from
Answercast #62, I look at the possibilities of protecting yourself from
cyber bullying and the difficulties of tracing a harassing email.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Unfortunately, your question is very common and also unfortunately, there’s
really nothing that you or I can do to track down the true source of the email
if the person has sufficiently obfuscated their email location. In fact, even
if they haven’t, it’s often very difficult to tell exactly who sent a piece of
email or specifically where physically on the planet it came from.
In reality, that kind of stuff… that requires law enforcement: the police,
attorneys, maybe even the courts.
Finding the culprit
What has to happen is the information in the email header needs to be
decoded by an expert. That’s not that difficult to do; but the information in
that header (usually the originating IP address of the email) then needs to be
turned into something usable. That’s not something you and I can do. That is
the kind of thing that requires that you go back to the ISP (the source of that
connection to the internet) and ask them, “Who’s at this IP address?”
And you know what, they’re not gonna tell you or me.
They’re just not going to tell people that walk up with that question – for
many different reasons, not the least of which is your own privacy. You don’t
want people walking up and saying, “Hey, who’s this IP address?” and having that
refer back to you. No, what it requires is a legal process.
What it requires (at least in the United States) is something along the
order of a court order that basically forces the ISP, or the service provider,
to provide as much information as they can about that specific IP address.
Shared IP addresses
That may not even be enough!
For example, if the IP address turns out to be Google’s Gmail, then the
courts now have to go to Google and say, “OK. Fine. Tell us who was logged in
to that email account and where they were located.” Then another court order to
the ISP of the resulting IP address… And you get the idea. It gets complicated
Now, it gets worse. The problem is that this kind of thing is so common (and
our courts and law enforcement system are so overloaded) that ultimately, this
kind of thing just doesn’t carry that high a weight; not that high of a
So, as best I can tell, unless things really, really rise to the level of
fearing for your life, law enforcement may probably not want to be bothered by
I would recommend that if you are concerned that you definitely do contact
an attorney or your local police or another law enforcement agency that would
be handling this kind of thing. At least, report the issue and see what kind of
resources are available in your location.
This is one of those things that varies dramatically – not just by what
country you’re in, but also by what city or area of the United States or other
country you might be in.
You might get lucky. You might be able to get help from local law
enforcement. If you can’t, there’s really not much else you can do.
I’d strongly recommend that you (if need be) set up a filter to
automatically delete the harassing email and never, ever have to look at it
again. I am sorry that the resources for this kind of thing are so limited
because unfortunately, online harassment and cyber bullying is very common. But
the fact is that the resources available to deal with it aren’t.