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Not a day goes by I don't get email addressed to someone else with my address nowhere to be found. The reason? Spam.

I've received about six messages in my Hotmail account that actually had another person's email address in the "To" field rather than mine. All six of these account names have been fairly similar to mine (i.e. semiactualaddress@hotmail.com, rather than actualaddress@hotmail.com) My question is why did I receive these emails since they were not even sent to my actual email address? Is this something I should worry about? I've never heard of anything like it...

If you've never seen this before, consider yourself very lucky.

The good news is that it's nothing to worry about.

The bad news is that it's very common.

What you're seeing, in a word, is spam.

First, it's very easy to send email to people without putting their name on the "To:" line. That's what the "BCC" or "Blind Carbon Copy" address field is all about when you compose a message. The message will be sent to those BCC recipients, but their email address will not show up in the "To:" or "Cc:" lines.

It's intended as an easy way to keep send someone a message or conversation, without letting the everyone else receiving the message know.

It's also a great way to keep email addresses private when you send a message to many people. Just put all the addresses in the BCC line, and none of the recipients will see who else got the message.

Spammers use BCC a lot. It's one of many, many ways that they use and abuse the email system to try and get their messages through the many spam filters that are out there. Perhaps as important, it's another trick they use to get you to open the email and read their spammy message.

In this case, they spammers probably don't know that your email address is valid. They're just trying anything that looks like an email address. Called a "dictionary attack", they just create a list of names, often related to each other, and start sending emails to them whether they're valid addresses or not.

"The reasons spammers take this approach is that they can."

So it's very likely that the emails you received were sent to:

  • semiactualaddress@hotmail.com

  • actualaddress@hotmail.com

  • anotheractualaddress@hotmail.com

  • yetanotheractualaddress@hotmail.com

  • ... and so on

Your's may have been the only "real" email address in the bunch. Lucky you. :-)

The reasons spammers take this approach is that they can. The cost of actually doing this is so incredibly low that they don't care if only 1 in 1,000 email addresses are valid. They can send out millions virtually for free, and the number of valid hits in that million are enough to make it worth while.

So, bottom line: it's just spam, delete it, don't worry about it, and move on with your life :-).

Article C2930 - February 12, 2007 « »

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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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6 Comments
Terry Hollett
February 17, 2007 7:46 AM

I received emails like this every now and then. I also received 'bounced back' emails claiming it couldn't be delivered. I assumed my account had been hacked and changed my password.

www.geocities.com/terryhollett2003/

Terry Hollett
February 17, 2007 7:49 AM

I also received 'bounced back' emails claiming it couldn't be delivered. - I would just like to clearify, I did not send the emails that where coming back undeliverable.

Israel
June 2, 2009 3:06 PM

Is there a way to set up a mail rule (in any client software) that will automatically delete any email that does not contain your email address in the TO field? If so, you could take care of this automatically.

Many email programs have this feature, however doing so would delete mail on which you've been CC'ed or BCC'ed, including many mailing lists which put the mailing list name in the TO field, not yours.
- Leo
03-Jun-2009

Tuber613
December 13, 2009 11:44 AM

I figured out a solution to this type of Spam. There are key words they must use . . . gambling, sex, Viagra . . . all you have to do is create a mail message that sends emails with content using these words to the trash or a junk mail folder. Unless your friends write to you about these things,, you should eliminate most of this.

sam
January 7, 2010 7:48 AM

I sent an email to a friend only her name was there, but another friend got it to.. why would she get it? when only one name was on it to send to?

sharon gagon
October 2, 2010 4:02 AM

when I email someone they get its from someone else not me , why? I want it to say its from me not them, people I email don"t know its from me and delete it, how do I have my name only say its from me? do you know what I mean?

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