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Why is email I’m sending being received by someone I’m not sending to?

Question: Hi, Leo. My business sends periodic email invitations out to our patrons that sign our guest registry with just their name and email address. Somehow, there is someone that’s getting the email, but he is not in my contact list. And he’s getting pretty upset. Now, I can’t blame him. I’ve triple-checked my contacts and his name is not there. Today, I sent an invitation and manually typed the names. As always, I asked that if people want to be removed, they just reply with “remove” in the subject line. I got an email from this person to be removed. I’m beside myself on what to do. Any suggestions?

To be honest, this is a really tough one. I run into this all the time. On the various email lists that I manage, I’ll end up getting a bounce message for an email that’s not on my list.

And while I have some ideas as to why, there’s little I can do.

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Automatically forwarded email

I suspect that someone who is on your list and getting your emails is automatically forwarding your email invitation to this other person.

In my case, I have little information to help me determine how or why this is happening. Often, I can’t identify which email address is the one that is doing the automatic forwarding. This is very painful, especially if someone is upset on the receiving end.

Now, the fact that you’re in contact with the person who is receiving the email gives you a little bit of hope. To figure out why this is happening, you need to ask that individual to send you a full copy of the email that he received including the detailed headers of the email.

Something's UpHow detailed email headers help

What’s neat about an automatically forwarded email like this one is that the headers should contain detailed information that’s usually hidden by the email system. Using this, you can actually track step by step the path that the email took as it left your server and landed in his inbox. That way, you can find out either who sent it to him or what service or server actually forwarded that email.

The only downside is that you need the upset person at the other end to cooperate with you and send you the email with the detailed headers. Hopefully, he’ll understand that by helping you, he’s actually helping himself. Without that information, I’m afraid that there’s little that can be done.

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8 comments on “Why is email I’m sending being received by someone I’m not sending to?”

  1. Another way would be to run a mail merge program to individualize each message (possibly with the email address) and ask the person to send back the message they get.

    If you can’t get it with Leo’s method or a mail merge, a clunkier method is to do a binary search on the list (of course you would be telling him that you are working on it and forwarding this article)

    The next time you send somethning out, split your list into halves (example a-m and n-z) to see which half they are in. The next time you split that half into halves (you can include the others that you know are not a problem with one of them. (example a-f and g-z). Keep splitting the part that has the offending name until it is narrowed down.
    If you do it perfectly, 10 times will narrow down a list of 1024 names.

  2. For a while I was constantly getting emails with my email address but were not for me. At first the contents were not important. They were just “hello, how are you ” and that kind of thing. Then, I started getting emails of a personal financial nature. Then, I knew that I had to do something. I was very lucky because I started with my ISP and asked if by chance there was another account on the system that had an address very similar to mine because I was getting the wrong email and had received some important emails for this person. Sure enough, there was an email that was 1 character different from mine. They contacted the other person who in turn contacted me. As it turned out, he thought that the email address that he was using was his but it was mine. I sent him the emails which he was happy to receive because of the time sensitive nature of them and he answered with an apology for the inconvenience.

  3. Somebody ordered cable TV and I got the email. Then they emailed me to say it was scheduled and I needed to have payment on the install date.

    I did an internet search to find the company’s customer service email and forwarded the email to them. That resolved the issue.

    But I guess you have to also be careful. If you don’t recognize the name of the company sending the email or you can’t easily locate them in a web search, that email might just be spam, trying to find out if it has found a legitimate email address. Responding to that email might just put you permanently on their spam list.

  4. Dear Leo

    Someone has sent an email from my home WIFI network to a certain group of people but they did not use my yahoo address.
    they put me in trouble and I was summoned by the Cyber Crime department accusing me that I sent the email.
    They traced the email and found out that the IP address belong to my home network.
    What I can I do to prove to them that I did not send the email?

    Thank you

    • You can’t prove a negative. That being said, you should probably enlist the services of a local professional, that’s not something we can assist with, remotely or otherwise.

    • You can look at the header. How to do that is different for each program and webmail interface. The sender’s IP address is the information used to identify the sender, but without law enforcement intervention, there’s very little you can tell from an IP number.


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