Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Stopping someone from sending you harassing email is harder than you might expect. Techniques to blocking harassing email are imperfect, at best.

I continue to receive harassing emails from an individual of whom I did not give my address. I have asked him several times to cease from writing to me but this is to no avail. I receive mail both in my in-box and my junk mail. I delete it without opening it but I now find that he is using other names/means to get through. I have never opened his mail so I don't know what his email address is. I have contact with several friends/relations/church members, etc. and really don't want to change my email address if possible. Can you advise me as to what I can do, please?

This is an unfortunately common situation.

And even more unfortunate is that there are few actual remedies, and those that do exist take a little bit of work.

But perhaps we can come up with an acceptable work-around...

First, let me be clear: you cannot use technology to stop someone from emailing you if they know your email address. The only technological solutions you have available to you relate to what you do with the email once it arrives.

Now, you'll note I said "technological solutions". If the emails truly meet the legal definition of harassment, then you should proceed immediately to your local law enforcement officials and legal system. If the harassment is illegal or threatening you may be able to have action taken. I'm in no way a lawyer, but if it's reached that level of concern then you should absolutely seek out legal advice.

My realm is technology, so let's look at that.

"... you cannot use technology to stop someone from emailing you if they know your email address."

Your goal is simple: even though he may continue to send it, you never want to see the email from this particular individual.

Much of what you can do depends greatly on your email provider, and the specific email program that you're using.

Many email providers allow you to specify "black lists" or "block lists" - email addresses from whom you never want to receive email. Windows Live Hotmail, for example, provides a Blocked Senders facility which allows you to "Manage who is blocked from sending you e-mail. Messages from blocked senders are automatically deleted." You can access this off the Options menu within Windows Live Hotmail. Other mail services, both web-based and downloadable, may have a similar facility - you'll need to check with whomever it is you're using for your email.

If your email provider does not include such a facility, you might look into your email program and see if it supports what are often called "filters" or "rules". Programs like Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express and others, and even some of the web based email services such as GMail, allow you to define rules that are applied to messages as they arrive, and they all at least support the basic rule: "if the message is from this address, delete it immediately".

Both of these approaches, blacklists and rules, sound almost perfect, right? Except there's one problem, and you're already experiencing it.

What if the sender changes the email address he's sending from?

Then things get much more difficult.

And, to be honest, with most services you're pretty much out of options at this point. You can start classifying the offending email as Junk or Spam, in the hopes that the spam filters will "learn" what you consider spam and eventually start junking it for you automatically, but it's not at all clear how effective that technique will be. It depends very heavily on the characteristics of the spam filters used by the email service you use.

Some email programs will allow you to set up advanced rules based on many other characteristics of incoming mail. For example, if your sender uses a particular phrase or signs the email a particular way every time, you can instruct your email program "if the email contains the phrase 'banned phrase' then delete it". Similarly, if your recipient is sending from an unchanging IP address, and if that IP address is visible in the email headers, then you could do the same "if it's from this IP address, delete it". (Be careful here; IP addresses can change, and you need to be positive you're banning the sender's IP, not the services IP or you could be blocking anyone who uses the same service.)

Unfortunately most web-based email services do not provide this advanced level of functionality.

Finally, you can complain to this person's ISP. Typically harassment is consider a violation of most ISP's terms of service. The problem here is that the ISP might not have the time or inclination to deal with these types of complaints, and it's unclear how much justification they might need. But it's worth a shot.

The bottom line is that it's extremely difficult to thwart someone who's truly motivated to send you email. As you can see there are many ways around the various roadblocks you can set up. If none of the above works, short of legal action my recommendation is the ultimate control you have: the delete key.

Article C3307 - March 2, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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21 Comments
ShawnPatrick
March 8, 2008 12:36 AM

Hi Leo... Responding to "How do I stop someone from sending me harassing email?"
I have read in the past that anyone who uses an e-mail address should consider the address as a disposable e-mail address. I was hoping in your reply to the person who had written you that you would have mentioned that as an alternative. Thats for all the newsletters I receive from you over the last year.
Take care.
Shawn Patrick

Mike
March 8, 2008 3:34 PM

Surely it is worth all the effort for this person to simply change the e mail address? An e mail can then be sent to all the people on the e mailers list, with the exception of the person who is not welcome for future e mails. I know it may be a large step to take, but if the present situation is realy as bad as we are being told, then surely it would be worth all the trouble?

gl hoffman
April 12, 2008 7:34 AM

this is helpful. I am researching this topic for my own blog, what would dad say, at http://blogs.jobdig.com/wwds.
Any ideas on how to gently tell friends to stop this sending of emails?

Danny
August 31, 2008 2:27 PM

Um, block them? -.-

unknowen
September 23, 2009 7:08 PM

I blocked this guy on aol after I warned him many times !!! It goes into my spam folders etc...... He still stalks/threatens me and I delete those.... what can I do about this physco harleydakotadog? He also lies about it after I confronted him once he says he was not doing anything wrong & he's not scared.... Scared of what the law??? Ignorance ! He also had hacked into my account pretending to be me and oneday he says so hows your computer???? How would he know such stuff like that? He is hacking into it.. I changed my password 3 times !!!!!! He's nuts..... I don't know what to do anymore except just ignore him more but he'll keep going.... Some people don't stop & he has not for over 8 or 9 months now.... He's physco. I reported him to aol 10 times after a week of being off he's back online trolling......

The only thing I can suggest is the legal system - lawyers and law enforcement.
Leo
24-Sep-2009

danielle
September 29, 2009 6:02 PM

My ex keeps sending me e-mails non-stop I blocked him but now he texts etc. after I told him to stop stalking me he said quote i'm not stalking ! and he is he just is crazy . [email address removed]

Liz
October 11, 2009 3:38 PM

I have tried blocking email from a sender and I find it upseting that this sender still manages to bypass this block

She is listed in the blocked senders on my hotmail but this function seems to be ignored - how can I remedy this?

Lauren
October 13, 2009 5:05 PM

This woman e-mails & makes threats saying she's gonna report me for some crap I never done false (info) she follows me on blogs & in chat rooms ranting out crazy stuff . Is this stalking? If so I know I may have to report this to police but wanted to make sure this if this is a stalking issue

That sounds like a question for a legal expert, which I'm not. Sorry.
Leo
14-Oct-2009

Lauren
October 13, 2009 5:47 PM

She's been using scary stuff/false info to try to scare me & other users in reality she's not bright & does not scare me. She's just some loud /crazy old woman threating people online.

kay
March 15, 2010 9:40 AM

My spouse and an ex from high school days were chatting on a popular site and now the ex girlfriend is emailing me telling me to leave her alone. She says I am harassing her from a different email account that I do not own. I have gotten warnings from this same email telling me they had chatted and included portions of emails my spouse had received. This ex is now threatening to have people from law enforcement look into me and bringing my children into the mix by accusing them of sending these emails. I have searched to see if I can figure out who sent them but it goes nowhere. Do I need to seek police intervention if she does not stop.

Mary
June 25, 2010 1:49 PM

Hello;

My partner cheated and I have decided to forgive him, however this woman is insisting on sending me harassing emials. I usually delete them, but recently she has set up new email addresses to contact me. What can I do?

kelly
August 19, 2010 2:17 PM

My cousin is writing defaming comments about me on my facebook and on other social networks. She is also leaving horrible comments about me on my business blog that are not true. What can I do to stop her.

Not much. You could contact a lawyer, I suppose, to see if the comments fall into some illegal area, but if not people can pretty much say what they want to say.
Leo
20-Aug-2010

anggarcia_26
August 25, 2010 11:09 AM

I advise you to Look up something called e-discovery (electronic Discovery)
Vital if you want to ever archive messages of any kind, for litigation, and lawsuits.
You can assume that once an email has been sent it exists forever, the same goes for landlines/ cellular phones, and text messages. Ip addresses are traceabal even when hidden through metadata and other sources, making it retrievable.
Recommended site below:
inboxer.com

Caroline
November 1, 2010 4:47 PM

I am interested in finding the location of harassing emails that I continue to receive because I would like to know if its a particular person sending them. Is there a way to find this information out so that I can have proof to use that this person is in fact harassing me?

Dave
December 7, 2010 7:05 AM

For over eight months I had gotten unsolicited e-mail from someone. I not only got him to stop sending me e-mail, he also apologized. I bet your wondering how I did that. I first asked him nicely to stop he did not. I tried to get his ISP to make him stop they would not. So I sent him an e-mail. In the e-mail I included a photo of his home (obtained from Google maps after doing a whois on his personal domain name), names addresses, phone numbers, ages and photos of his kids (obtained from Facebook), and the last 4 digits of his credit card and his social security card (not going to share how I got those). I made no threat just showed him the information that I had about him. With in hours I got an e-mail back from him and here is what it said.

“I am sorry that I have been sending emails to you. It won’t happen again. My apologies. . . “

taissa lada
March 15, 2011 8:17 PM

I have been receiving unwanted emails for years now from someone who I have know since 1987.I have blocked him on well over a dozen emails now and also on several different fb accounts. He has called and harassed my mother as well and asked her personal questions about me. I have told him several times to stop but he still continues to harass me often referring to me as a 'mentally ill drama queen, drug addict, gold digger" He has made it very clear how "amusing" and "funny" he finds my remarks. I told him I would take legal action if necessary and he turned around and said he never sent the messages. I contacted gmail, where the recent messages came from. I have contacted the police and saved most of what he sent. Is there a way to find some of the messages that I deleted?

bonnie
April 13, 2011 1:30 AM

Someone is harrassing me by signing me up for all kinds of programs online with my email and i have there ip address how can i use it to get them in trouble or make them stop? Im tired of seeing all kinds of emails that this person signed me up with its very bothersome on what kind of programs that are responding to my email address, and that they have nothing better to do with there life that they had to do this to me. Please any suggestions so i dont knock the b!t*h out???!!!

You cannot use the IP address, but law enforcement might be able to if what's happening is illegal and they have the time and expertise to follow up.

Leo
14-Apr-2011
angela
July 8, 2011 10:57 AM

if you block someone what will the sender see on there side

In almost all cases: nothing.
Leo
10-Jul-2011

LC
November 5, 2011 12:25 PM

I think it is a shame that others are allowed to harass others, like me, on the net when I have done nothing to anyone. There should be laws that protect innocent internet users from harassing emails, some in sexual content. Those that are amusing themselves must have a very boring life since they amuse themselves this way. I have an idea who it is but he keeps changing or adding different email accounts so not to be traced. Sick individual. It did not work out between us so he needs to just let it go. What he is doing is using craigs list head line ads to contact me on things that I don't have posted. Craigs list can't do anything since he is sending the emails from ipad/iphone/droid verizon wireless. I shall continue to prove it is this individual and take the appropriate action against him. I have better things to do with my time than harass others on the internet....

Rob Yellow
December 20, 2011 6:47 AM

I saw what Dave wrote up there about sending a picture of that dude's house back to him. Makes me wonder: Does fighting fire with fire actually work, or are you sinking down to their level? Obviously if Dave knew how to do that, who's to say that he DOESN'T do the same stuff himself? Where does it end?

Steve Paesani
August 3, 2012 3:21 PM

A death threat is a death threat and harrassment is harassment
regardless of the means or media and should be reported to the appropriate authority.

As for trying to block emails that is no more different than trying to block hate propaganda. The laws exist to stop it at the source and not the receiving in.

Shame on Leo for not pointing this out.


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