How to Find Out Where Email Comes From

By Maya Austen

When you don’t recognize the sender’s email address of an email you receive, finding out where that email originated from takes a little digging. It’s not always possible without the aid of extraordinary resources to trace an email back to the exact computer and person who sent it. As email moves through the web bouncing from server to server and from sender to destination, they pick up signatures which mark the route they traveled. But some people--such as spammers--have learned how to obscure this trail. Still, you have the ability to at least narrow down the origins of mystery email.

Opening Email Headers (Various Accounts)

Step 1

Find the email you want to trace in your Outlook inbox. Right-click on it. Select “Options” from the pop-up menu.

Step 2

Find and open the email you want to trace in Gmail. Click the “More Options” link. Click “Show Original.”

Step 3

Click the Hotmail “Options” link. Click “Mail Display Settings.” Find and open the email you want to trace.

Step 4

Click the Yahoo! “Options” link. Click the “General Preferences” link. Find the “Headers” heading under “Messages.” Choose “All.” Find and open the email you want to trace.

Step 5

Log in to AOL to find and open the email you want to trace. Click the “Action” button. Select “View Message Source.”

Tracing an Email Route

Step 1

Examine your email header. Each time your email was transferred to a new server while in route to you, it was tagged with a new header entry. Your email header will contain some or all of the following entry fields: “Received: from… by…. via… with… ID… for… date and time,” with different values in place of each ellipsis. Every time you see the field “Received: from,” it denotes the beginning of a new header.

Step 2

Scroll down to the last header listed in your email. This was the first header your email was tagged with. Copy the IP address listed in the “Received: from” field. IP stands for Internet Protocol and an IP address is a unique numerical identifier. Look for a series of numbers and periods contained within a bracket. This is the IP address of the original server that sent your email.

Step 3

Use the “IP Address Tracer” (see Resources) to find out where your email came from. The IP address tracer will let you know the general location (country, state, city and sometimes postal code) your email originated from. It also provides the Internet services provider and organization that sent it and the type of browser and operating system on the computer that sent your email.

Step 4

Paste the IP address you copied in your email in the IP tracer’s address field. Click the “Track IP” button.

Tips & Warnings

  • The domain name listed in the email header information can sometimes be manipulated, therefore they’re not always trustworthy identifiers. IP addresses are more reliable.