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Why am I getting replies to emails I sent months ago?

I’m getting replies to emails I sent four or five months ago and not from
the person it was sent to. How can this happen?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #50
, I look at a case where questionable emails are suddenly
coming from an old friend. Sounds suspiciously like a hacked account.

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Delayed email replies

It’s really difficult to say. Normally, the scenario that immediately jumps
to mind is that:

  • The person you sent email to four or five months ago has had their account
    hacked.

What’s the content?

It really depends on exactly what those replies contain.

If they are a reply to the message (in other words, they’re actually in
context and it makes sense given the conversation you were having with that
person) then:

  • For all I know, it could have been stuck in their Outbox for the last four or
    five months and never really made it out;

  • Or it could have been stuck on an email server somewhere.

That’s extremely rare. While the mail system is setup to tolerate delays of
maybe multiple days, multiple months is almost unheard of.

Questionable content

If the content of the message that you’re getting in this reply is
questionable…

  • Maybe it’s just a single link (which is common in the case of a hacked email
    account);

  • Or it’s something that is telling you all about their wonderful new product
    (or whatever it is that they just bought) and they encourage you to go check
    out this site that also sells that product;

  • Or if they’re asking you for money right away;

…that is a sign the account has probably been hacked. The individuals who
are manipulating that account (the spammers, or the scammers in this particular
case) are actually using that account’s address book (or potentially email
that’s in that account) and replying to it to send their spam.

They’re using that to send out spam. They do this because:

  • They know that the email addresses that this person was corresponding with
    are valid email addresses;

  • So that they know that this is a real email address with a
    real person at the other end;

  • AND because that email looks like it’s comes from somebody that you might
    know, you as the recipient then are more likely actually open it up and maybe
    even trust it when you shouldn’t.

Notify the person

So my recommendation is, in a case like this:

  • You try and contact the person whose email account this came from.

  • If you have a different way of contacting them, that would be great because
    you really don’t know that this email account even gets to them anymore.

Remember, it’s very possible it’s been hacked and they don’t even have
access to it themselves. Let them know that this is what’s going on.

Spam happens!

But for the most part… this happens! It’s all about how scammers and
spammers and hackers get into email accounts and start using them for the
purposes of sending spam.

The best thing you can do (if you can’t get ahold of the person who this
email account belongs to by some other means) is to:

  • Simply delete the mail;

  • Maybe start marking it as spam in your email service so that further email
    from that same sender would also get marked as spam.

Next from Answercast 50 – Why
does legitimate
anti-malware software interfere with my browsing?

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