How to Find a Person Sending Harassment Emails
By Nicolette Smith
Aside from the relative friendliness of Facebook, the utility of Wikipedia and the entertainment of Flickr, there is a darker side to the web which has come to light over the past few years, and that is the growing problem of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is when an Internet user experiences unwarranted or uninvited attention from another Internet surfer through e-mail, social networking, instant messaging or any other form of electronic communication. Victims are often inundated with abuse from an anonymous harasser, often without any identifiable reason or trigger. The situation can seem hopeless, but it is possible to identify and prosecute your electronic harasser, even when the harassment comes via e-mail.
Look for identifying clues. When a cyber stalker contacts you by e-mail, there may be certain clues as to their identity. They are unlikely to use their real name as part of the e-mail address, but narrow down their account by looking at the e-mail account provider, which may belong to a specific company or locality.
Search for the e-mail address. Enter the e-mail address into a search engine to see if it comes up associated with any recognizable names or organizations. If you are lucky, your harasser will not have created an e-mail address specifically with the intention of harassing you, in which case you may be able to trace them relatively easily.
Find the e-mail header. An e-mail header describes the route taken by the e-mail message from the sender’s e-mail account into your own account. The header is usually hidden in an e-mail, so you need to reveal it, so that you can identify an Internet IP address. Go into the ‘Options’ or ‘Preferences’ section of your e-mail account, and tick the box labeled ‘reveal your e-mail header’. Once you have the e-mail header, make note of the ‘Message ID’, a unique identifying number assigned to each e-mail by the originating host. This identifier may contain the IP address, or you may need to translate the IP address, in which case visit an IP translator site, such as topjimmysoftware.com and use their ‘Locate IP Address’ button. An IP address can categorize areas where the harasser’s computer may be based, and, in turn, may help you to find your stalker. The IP address that you find may lead you directly to your harasser’s computer, or it may narrow down your search to a university or similar organization.
Mine the header for more data. If the IP address reveals an organization rather than an individual user, investigate the header again. The header may reveal who was logged onto the computer during the time that the e-mail was sent, in which case you will be able to identify a particular individual within a particular organization. Look for a line in the header reading ‘X-Sender’.
Attempt a return e-mail. Once you have the IP address and user revealed, you may be able to produce a return e-mail, i.e., if the IP is revealed to be ‘university.yea.uk’, you could attempt to insert the user name in from so that the e-mail reads: firstname.lastname@example.org and see what happens.
Obtain a real name. You may even be able to identify an individual by their real name, if you finger the account. Most service provider disable this facility for reasons of privacy, but it is certainly worth a try in the pursuit of your harasser. Simply type in FINGER and then your e-mail address into a command prompt (setup a command promt by visiting the start button on your computer, typing “run” and then in the field type “cmd”). This may reveal the name of the e-mail address holder.
Show your evidence to the police. Take along all printed copies of e-mail conversations, explain when the e-mails first started being sent and provide a list of potential perpetrators. Police have access to private online data which you as a member of the general public do not, and therefore stand a better chance of locating your harasser where all other efforts have failed.
Contact a private investigator. While online harassment is recognized as a genuine problem by the police, they do not always have the time and resources to devote to an investigation of the culprit. You may consider taking your case to a private investigator or a computer specialist, who may be able to help you identify your stalker.
Contact a lawyer, who will be familiar with state cyberstalking and harassment laws and who can help you plan your next move.
Nicolette Smith has worked as a professional copywriter since 2007. She has experience writing for a variety of industries including the pharmaceutical, software, publishing, financial and entertainment industries. She has written for "The Herald Express" newspaper and the website On the Box. She earned a Bachelor of Laws in European law from the University of East Anglia.