Can you trace an email address to a person?

We all receive tens if not hundreds of unrequested or unwanted emails to our personal and work email addresses every day; these pop up in our personal inbox special offers from that online shop you once purchased something from or tempting suggestions from the luxury getaway website you accidentally subscribed to, or to our work inbox with demands from management or incessant queries from clients, or in our junk folder offering all kinds of opportunities, offers and alleged deals or services that will apparently drastically improve our lives! From trying to entice us into trialling and reviewing a new washing powder and telling us about how we can make millions on bitcoin to plaguing us with products that guarantee to improve erectile function and offers of casual sexual encounters with sexy housewives “near you now”, emails offer it all! Most of us filter what we read and respond to, and what we discard and desperately try to unsubscribe to (often with little success!). 

However, there are some occasions when we receive an email that peaks our interest or concern; it may be that the email is threatening or intimidating in some way and you need to investigate this further or take action to protect yourself; the email may contain what you think is a genuine offer of a great or once in a lifetime opportunity and you want to know more and check its authenticity; the email may appear to come from a long lost friend or ex-partner that you would love to regain contact with and you want to ensure that it is really them; it may just be that you think an email has come from a known business associate but their email address has changed due to reorganisation or them moving to a new company and you want to confirm its definitely from the person you believe it to be; it may be that you are fed up with the relentless unwanted spam from that address and need to determine to sender to put an end to this! Whatever the basis, certain emails make us want to dig deeper, ensure that we are not being conned or scammed and accurately determine who they are from so we can be fully informed when replying to the email or in deciding what to do next and how to do this.

In a situation such as one of those described above you are going to want to trace the email and find out additional information including the owner of the email address the correspondence has originated from; this is also called reverse look up. There are several different methods that you can use to reverse look up the email you have received.

Quite a complex and technical but effective method of trying to clarify the email sender is to look at the full email header; in gmail you will need to open the email the use the drop down in the top right to click on show original to get the full email header; on outlook you will need to open the email then go to file and then properties and then look at internet headers; on apple you will need to open the email and go to view message then raw source. Lots of technical data is presented when you look up the full email header; you can find the IP address of the sender on the first received line (the email originator) of information. Once you have the IP address you can use a search site such as MX Toolbox; enter the IP address in the search bar and alter the type of search you want to undertake to reverse look up. This will then provide the details for the server which sent the email. This method will only work however if the user is not on a private IP address. But the search facility sites are free so it doesn’t hurt to try this method as it can have a very good probability of success. 

You can try looking up the email address with the use of google; just type the email address for the email you have received into the search bar. This method is not 100% reliable and more likely to be successful and yield results with business emails as lot of companies have email directories that will come up in the search. Google is the most used and popular search engine in the world but, if you don’t get the answer you are looking for there, you could always try the same method on another search engine such as bing. The search engine may direct you to a business website linked to the address which will provide the information that you require. However, it may also send you to a third party service provider which you may have to subscribe to and this may incur a fee; check they provide a genuine service before parting with money. The search engine reverse look up method is a good place to start, however, as its easy, quick and free.

Social media is another potential means of identifying the owner of an email address; if a person is a social media user and has opted in to share their email address on social media you can type the email address into the search bar on the social media platform they use and this will take you to the person using that email address. On Facebook, for example, you can log into your own account and then type the email address you are querying into the search bar and any post, person or page this corresponds to will come up. Twitter and Linked In are less don’t perform the email address search as well as other sites but there are plenty to choose from. Obviously, this method won’t work if the person is not on social media, use another or other email addresses on social media, if you are looking on the wrong site or if they have opted out of sharing.

You could install a browser extension that identifies the sender of all emails automatically and provides information about the owner of the email address such as the company they work for and contact details. This is only available for some browser providers including google chrome/gmail. You would need to ensure that you are able to install an extension on the system that you utilise. If you are, however, this is a very effective service that can identify the majority of origins of business emails.

There are paid services that you can search on the internet which will perform a full look up on the emails you receive and provide comprehensive details of the sender including their work, social media profiles and networks. These do incur a fee but equally, they have a good ratio of success and are quite a reliable means of tracking down an email sender; ensure that you are subscribing to a genuine service provider however before you pay as there are lots of scams and false claimants advertising on the internet that will not deliver the end product that you believe you are paying for.

Another option is to employ the service of a professional tracing agent; these experts have access to resources and software that are not available to the public and can interrogate databases and online files that cannot be reached by ordinary means or by people not working and trained in this field. This will, again, incur a fee but almost guarantees that you will receive the information you are seeking and offers the most reliable and highest success rate in identifying email address owners.

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