10 Tips to Identify the Person who’s Behind the Email Address
With more than 100 billion messages sent each day, the email remains one of the most popular forms of electronic communications to date. Whether we’re talking about personal or marketing emails, we all get several of them on a daily basis, and while on most occasions we know exactly who the senders are, there might be times when an email comes from an unknown source. Keep in mind that it’s the Internet we’re talking about, so there’s no such thing as complete anonymity.
Here are 10 tips to identify the person who’s behind an email address.
When you receive an email from an unknown sender, the easiest way of getting some info about them is by doing a Google search on the email address, and looking into the results. Chances are the sender has used that email address somewhere else, such as on a forum, a blog, a poll, or any other place in the digital universe, and if they did, there will be traces for you to follow. You can try your luck with other search engines such as Yahoo! or Bing.
Try variations of the email address
If search engines don’t return any useful results with an exact search, you can try extracting usable bits of information from the address. For example, if the sender address is ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, you can just extract the name – John Johnson, and work with that. This is not a bulletproof method, but it might put you on the right track.
Check Social Media Platforms
Search engines might not have the answer, but chances are social media platforms do. There are more than 1.44 billion active users on Facebook alone, so chances are you’ll find the identity of the sender on one of the social media platforms. Same advice as in the case of search engines – don’t go in one place only: check out Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Google+ and even local social platforms. In most cases, an email address will come with a matching face on a social platform.
Try People Search Services
There are various people search services around the web, which are essentially the Internet equivalent of a phone book. You can check these services and see if you can get a match for the email address you want to trace. Services like Pipl or Spokeo use complex searching algorithms that can dig up a lot of information, but there are numerous other services that do a similar job as well. Some of these services will only inform you if they found any results but won’t display them unless you sign up for a paid plan.
Use IP-based Searches
When someone sends you an email, aside from their email address they also share (willingly or not) a whole lot of other information, one of this bits being their IP address. In case you’re not familiar with technical terms, an IP address is a unique identifier that’s assigned to a computer, and it can be used to trace said computer fairly easily. Just look in the header of the email and you will find a lot of technical data, including the sender’s IP address. Once you have the IP, just insert it into a search engine or an IP tracking site and, if you’re lucky enough, you might get a match. Keep in mind, though, that some Internet service providers use dynamic IPs, in which case IP-based tracking is almost impossible.
Request info from their ISP
An IP-based search might lead you to an apparent dead-end at some point, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. You may consider finding what Internet service provider the IP belongs to, and getting in touch with said provider. However, ISPs usually have privacy clauses in place, so unless the person sending you the emails does something illegal such as trying to scam you or threaten you, chances are you won’t get very far with this option. Still, it’s worth a shot.
Identify Pishing Attempts
If you receive an email from a financial institution, or other type of institution, claiming that you confirm your personal details, chances are you’re looking at a pishing email that is after your personal data. Finding out who is behind such emails might be a bit complicated, but not impossible. The easiest way of identifying a pishing email is by looking at the sender’s address – if it doesn’t look anything like an official one, chances are it’s a scam. Even if the address appears genuine, there might still be a catch, if there is a different reply-to address in the body of the email. If that’s the case, use the reply-to email as the base of your search, and just go through the steps above.
Verify Domain Whois
When dealing with emails coming from custom domains, verifying the domain whois info can give you some clues about the identity of the senders. Services such as whois.net are free to use, and will show you the domain registrant’s information. Even if the information is not real, chances are there will be a contact email address, which you can use to trace the person behind it all.
Reverse Image Search
Some emails, especially marketing or scam ones, might make it look like they’re coming from an individual person, and come with an attached picture in the signature area. Whether that person is real or not can be determined fairly easily by doing a reverse search on that image: simply save the image to your PC (after scanning it with an antivirus software – you should never download contents from an email coming from an untrusted source without scanning them), go to the “Images” section in Google, and in the right side of the search field you should see a camera icon – click on it, upload the picture and hit “Search”. If the person is real, chances are that picture will show up somewhere else as well, such as on a social media profile.
Contact Local Authorities
If you received an email that contains threats, do not hesitate to alert the authorities. Don’t bother trying to identify the sender yourself, as you’re just wasting valuable time, and you might be in real danger. Leave it for the authorities to trace the sender, as they can easily obtain access to the Internet service provider and the email system provider’s logs, and therefore identify the sender.