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I'm seeing an increase in reports of email sent but never received, often relating to Hotmail accounts. I'll look at possible reasons.

I used to exchange email with my husband using Hotmail. For the last year I can only send but can't receive from him anymore? What do you think happened? Would putting my email address as an alternative email in his account help? How can we resolve this problem?

To be completely honest, I'm not sure you can resolve it.

I've been getting more and more reports of email being lost - simply not being received - by Hotmail accounts.

And while I haven't seen any patterns, I'll speculate some on possible causes.

The symptoms are pretty simple: two email accounts, one or both on Hotmail, that are apparently working just fine, except that email from one is never received by the other. The message sent looks like it worked: there's no bounce, no warning, no error - but also no delivery to the recipient. The message is simply lost.

"The problem may also disappear on its own. Or not."

And it's consistent when email is sent from the one account to the other.

Though the reverse isn't typically true. Email from account "A" to account "B" may disappear, but email from "B" to "A" arrives normally.

And email from other sources arrives normally.

It's actually quite frustrating.

I don't have a specific cause, but I do have some ideas - some of which you can check.

  • Hotmail does have a "blocked senders" list. If an email address appears on that list, it's immediately deleted, resulting in the exact symptoms you're experiencing. Click on Options (in the upper right), More Options, "Safe and blocked senders" and then "Blocked senders". Check the list on the right carefully for the email address of the person who's email you're missing, and for the domain ("@domain.com" in the list will block all email addresses ending in @domain.com).

  • Check your junk mail folder. In the common scenario that I'm talking about, the messages do not appear in the junk mail folder, but it's important to check anyway. In particular, if you accidentally or on purpose click on the "Junk" button to delete an email, then you're telling Hotmail that all email from that particular email address is likely to be junk. At some point Hotmail may start throwing email from that person directly into the Junk folder.

  • Spam "from spoofing" can cause someone's email address to be erroneously labeled as spam, or worse. In these scenarios spammers make email look like they're coming from a particular email address, when they're not. As individuals receive those emails and mark them as spam Hotmail can take note and mark legitimate emails from that address that weren't spoofed as spam.

  • Spam doesn't seem to always land in the Junk folder. We'd like to assume that we always have the Junk folder to fall back on for anything that was sent to us, but it appears that not all email that is filtered as spam will in fact be placed there. I'd guess that if the email matches criteria that label it "bad enough", the email is simply deleted. Those criteria might include content, the From: address, or other characteristics like the IP address from which it was sent.

Regardless of how it happens, the real question is what to do about it.

Unfortunately - aside from checking the blocked senders list as mentioned above - I have no ideas.

The problem may also disappear on its own. Or not.

The real issue here, I believe, is simply the war on spam. As spam fighting techniques evolve situations like this come up. Hopefully the fact that these techniques might be throwing false positives will eventually be detected and corrected, it's not something that I'd rely on, or rely on happening quickly.

If this becomes a serious enough problem the only solution I know of that's in your control is to use a different email account, either to send from, or to send to.

Article C4196 - March 3, 2010 « »

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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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4 Comments
bart
March 5, 2010 2:40 PM

Perhaps these hotmail accounts already exist for a long time and the online storage simply is full.. would that be possible?

Who knows? Anything is possible. In the reports I've seen, though, it's not been the case.
Leo
06-Mar-2010

Mark
March 7, 2010 1:09 AM

I had a similar problem and this may shed some light on the problem. Hotmail was blacklisting all emails from GMX (an email provider). It took a few months writing to them and finally writing to ZDNet and getting their help was I able to get the situation resolved. To carry out email correspondence and protect my real email address I opened up a hotmailsucks address which is my spam catcher address now. So what can I say other than hotmail sucks. Sign up fo GMail instead, notify every body about the change of address and check your hotmail periodically for stragglers who may still write you there. (I have an old email address that I stopped using 6 years ago and still check it, once every couple of years I get and email from some I knew way back then). Bottom line a spam filter that lets in a lot of unwanted email is bad. A spam filter that filters out one wanted email is bordering on criminal.

Robert DiGrazia
March 9, 2010 8:55 AM

I agree with Mark: "A spam filter that filters out one wanted email is bordering on criminal."

I have gmail accounts that forward to my ISP email account. I have to log in to gmail to check the spam folder regularly. Worse, my ISP is obsessive, and rejects some emails that survive gmail, returning them to the gmail account.

The best scheme I've seen is from the email forwarder Brightmail used at my alma mater. It grabs spams, but sends a daily digest. I get digests listing a dozen or two quarantined messages. So far it has erroneously intercepted two good emails in about three years, but it told me!

Even the geniuses at M'Soft and Google don't get everything right.

Grouchy
March 10, 2010 7:26 AM

I had the same problem. I could not get mail from my wife at all. Finally, out of desperation I removed her from my contacts ( everywhere ) and then added her back as a new contact manually. It worked, I started getting her mail again. Unfortunately you get what you pay for.

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