Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why am I getting email addressed to someone else?

I’ve received about six messages in my Hotmail account that actually had
another person’s email address in the “To” field rather than mine. All six of
these account names have been fairly similar to mine (i.e.
semiactualaddress@hotmail.com, rather than actualaddress@hotmail.com) My
question is why did I receive these emails since they were not even sent to my
actual email address? Is this something I should worry about? I’ve never heard
of anything like it…

If you’ve never seen this before, consider yourself very lucky.

The good news is that it’s nothing to worry about.

The bad news is that it’s very common.

What you’re seeing, in a word, is spam.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

First, it’s very easy to send email to people without putting their name on
the “To:” line. That’s what the “BCC” or “Blind Carbon Copy” address field is
all about when you compose a message. The message will be sent to those BCC
recipients, but their email address will not show up in the “To:” or “Cc:”
lines.

It’s intended as an easy way to keep send someone a message or conversation,
without letting the everyone else receiving the message know.

It’s also a great way to keep email addresses private when you send a
message to many people. Just put all the addresses in the BCC line, and none of
the recipients will see who else got the message.

Spammers use BCC a lot. It’s one of many, many ways that they use and abuse
the email system to try and get their messages through the many spam filters
that are out there. Perhaps as important, it’s another trick they use to get
you to open the email and read their spammy message.

In this case, they spammers probably don’t know that your email address is
valid. They’re just trying anything that looks like an email address. Called a
“dictionary attack”, they just create a list of names, often related to each
other, and start sending emails to them whether they’re valid addresses or
not.

“The reasons spammers take this approach is that they
can.”

So it’s very likely that the emails you received were sent to:

  • semiactualaddress@hotmail.com

  • actualaddress@hotmail.com

  • anotheractualaddress@hotmail.com

  • yetanotheractualaddress@hotmail.com

  • … and so on

Your’s may have been the only “real” email address in the bunch. Lucky you.
🙂

The reasons spammers take this approach is that they can. The cost of
actually doing this is so incredibly low that they don’t care if only 1 in
1,000 email addresses are valid. They can send out millions virtually
for free, and the number of valid hits in that million are enough to make it
worth while.

So, bottom line: it’s just spam, delete it, don’t worry about it, and move
on with your life :-).

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

6 comments on “Why am I getting email addressed to someone else?”

  1. I received emails like this every now and then. I also received ‘bounced back’ emails claiming it couldn’t be delivered. I assumed my account had been hacked and changed my password.

    Reply
  2. I also received ‘bounced back’ emails claiming it couldn’t be delivered. – I would just like to clearify, I did not send the emails that where coming back undeliverable.

    Reply
  3. Is there a way to set up a mail rule (in any client software) that will automatically delete any email that does not contain your email address in the TO field? If so, you could take care of this automatically.

    Many email programs have this feature, however doing so would delete mail on which you’ve been CC’ed or BCC’ed, including many mailing lists which put the mailing list name in the TO field, not yours.

    – Leo
    03-Jun-2009
    Reply
  4. I figured out a solution to this type of Spam. There are key words they must use . . . gambling, sex, Viagra . . . all you have to do is create a mail message that sends emails with content using these words to the trash or a junk mail folder. Unless your friends write to you about these things,, you should eliminate most of this.

    Reply
  5. I sent an email to a friend only her name was there, but another friend got it to.. why would she get it? when only one name was on it to send to?

    Reply
  6. when I email someone they get its from someone else not me , why? I want it to say its from me not them, people I email don”t know its from me and delete it, how do I have my name only say its from me? do you know what I mean?

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.