I continue to receive harassing emails from an individual of whom I did not
give my address. I have asked him several times to cease from writing to me but
this is to no avail. I receive mail both in my in-box and my junk mail. I
delete it without opening it but I now find that he is using other names/means
to get through. I have never opened his mail so I don’t know what his email
address is. I have contact with several friends/relations/church members, etc.
and really don’t want to change my email address if possible. Can you advise me
as to what I can do, please?
This is an unfortunately common situation.
And even more unfortunate is that there are few actual remedies, and those
that do exist take a little bit of work.
But perhaps we can come up with an acceptable work-around…
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First, let me be clear: you cannot use technology to stop someone from
emailing you if they know your email address. The only technological solutions
you have available to you relate to what you do with the email once it
Now, you’ll note I said “technological solutions”. If the emails truly meet
the legal definition of harassment, then you should proceed immediately to your
local law enforcement officials and legal system. If the harassment is illegal
or threatening you may be able to have action taken. I’m in no way
a lawyer, but if it’s reached that level of concern then you should absolutely
seek out legal advice.
My realm is technology, so let’s look at that.
emailing you if they know your email address.”
Your goal is simple: even though he may continue to send it, you never want
to see the email from this particular individual.
Much of what you can do depends greatly on your email provider, and the
specific email program that you’re using.
Many email providers allow you to specify “black lists” or “block lists” –
email addresses from whom you never want to receive email. Windows Live
Hotmail, for example, provides a Blocked Senders facility which allows
you to “Manage who is blocked from sending you e-mail. Messages from blocked
senders are automatically deleted.” You can access this off the
Options menu within Windows Live Hotmail. Other mail services,
both web-based and downloadable, may have a similar facility – you’ll need to
check with whomever it is you’re using for your email.
If your email provider does not include such a facility, you might look into
your email program and see if it supports what are often called “filters” or
“rules”. Programs like Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express and others, and
even some of the web based email services such as GMail, allow you to define
rules that are applied to messages as they arrive, and they all at least
support the basic rule: “if the message is from this address, delete it
Both of these approaches, blacklists and rules, sound almost perfect, right?
Except there’s one problem, and you’re already experiencing it.
What if the sender changes the email address he’s sending from?
Then things get much more difficult.
And, to be honest, with most services you’re pretty much out of options at
this point. You can start classifying the offending email as Junk or Spam, in
the hopes that the spam filters will “learn” what you consider spam and
eventually start junking it for you automatically, but it’s not at all clear
how effective that technique will be. It depends very heavily on the
characteristics of the spam filters used by the email service you use.
Some email programs will allow you to set up advanced rules based
on many other characteristics of incoming mail. For example, if your sender uses
a particular phrase or signs the email a particular way every time, you can
instruct your email program “if the email contains the phrase ‘banned phrase’
then delete it”. Similarly, if your recipient is sending from an unchanging IP
address, and if that IP address is visible in the email headers, then
you could do the same “if it’s from this IP address, delete it”. (Be careful
here; IP addresses can change, and you need to be positive you’re
banning the sender’s IP, not the services IP or you could be blocking
anyone who uses the same service.)
Unfortunately most web-based email services do not provide this
advanced level of functionality.
Finally, you can complain to this person’s ISP. Typically harassment is
consider a violation of most ISP’s terms of service. The problem here is that
the ISP might not have the time or inclination to deal with these types of
complaints, and it’s unclear how much justification they might need. But it’s
worth a shot.
The bottom line is that it’s extremely difficult to thwart someone
who’s truly motivated to send you email. As you can see there are many ways
around the various roadblocks you can set up. If none of the above works, short
of legal action my recommendation is the ultimate control you have: the delete key.