Are You Spamming Your Email Contacts? How to Find Out & Fix the Problem

Ben Stegner 25-03-2015

Everybody hates spam What Everybody Ought to Know About Dealing With Email Spam It might be next to impossible to stop spam completely, but it's certainly possible to reduce its flow to a trickle. We outline some of the different measures you can take. Read More . At best, it’s irritating and wastes a few seconds of your time; more severe cases can approach phishing What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More and pose a danger to anyone who interacts with the illegitimate messages. We’ve all probably gotten an email advertising hot singles in our area or how to make a pile of cash overnight, but when your account is the one sending the spam, it’s a different situation.


It’s important to be aware of the signs that someone has been tampering with your email account, and what actions to take should you encounter a problem. Let’s make sure you know how to do both of these, and then wrap up with how to prevent this garbage from happening in the first place.

Evidence Your Account is Compromised

Unfortunately, when your email account has been attacked, the signs won’t always manifest themselves in the same way. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have a clue what’s going on. If you observe some of these symptoms, you need to take action.


Something’s up With Your Sent Folder

Most of us don’t check the Sent folder of email as much as we obsess over Inbox Zero 5 Action Steps for Curing Your Inbox Zero Email Frenzy Inbox Zero is one of the most popular buzz words. To truly solve your email issues you need to go beyond Inbox Zero and address the underlying problems. Read More , but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what’s leaving your email, too. Scan the headlines and if anything looks shady, take a closer look. Of course, just because your Sent mail is clear doesn’t mean a lack of foul play. A spammer could have easily deleted them to cover his tracks.

Nonsense Found in Recent Activity

Most email providers have a page that allows you to view where your account has been touched lately. Take a glance at this page once a month or so and if you see access from devices you don’t own or from countries that you’re not even close to, that’s a strong sign someone else has gotten into your email.


For Gmail users, Google Dashboard carries all of your info for various Google services 3 More Awesome Google Services That You Probably Never Knew Existed Though it's where its fame and fortune first came from, Google has advanced far beyond just being the world's most popular search engine. You and I both know that Google plays host to many amazing... Read More . At the top, under Account, you can see what devices and locations your account has been accessed from in the last month. Scroll down to Gmail and you can view how many messages have been sent, as well as the most recent one. If this number is through the roof, it’s likely a bot spamming.


Yahoo users can do the same with Yahoo’s login history; Hotmail users should head to Microsoft Account Recent Activity. Other email sites should provide a similar option.

You Aren’t Getting Email

It’s not as common, but if your account is under hostile control, you might not be receiving emails that you’re expecting (not including another one of those endless newsletters! 4 Decluttering Tips for Newsletters If You Don't Want to Trash Them How many e-mail subscriptions do you have? If you're like me, you have absolutely no idea, but you know that it's a lot. It's time to take action. Read More ). Should you suspect this, a good test is to have a friend send you an email to make sure it goes through. For good measure, reply to them to be sure your email isn’t being modified or having an unwanted signature added to it.


Friends Complain

This is an obvious point, but it really depends on who’s in your contact book, since they’ll likely be the ones on the butt end of the spam.. Hopefully, if you regularly email funny pictures Look At That Photograph: 7 Websites Full Of Funny Photos There are quite a few of us here at MakeUseOf who are very keen on photography. I count myself as one of those people, though I do it purely for fun. I'm not even that... Read More and stories or have deep conversations with your friends over email, they’ll know it wasn’t your hand that sent that “hey click here to lose weight” junk – they can let you know so the problem doesn’t go on for weeks.


Having less tech-savvy users in your address book can be a problem, as they’re more susceptible to falling for thieves asking for money How I Nearly Got Conned Via A Western Union Transfer Scam Here's a little story about the latest "Nigerian scam", which is all too obvious in hindsight and yet so believable when you're on the hook. Read More impersonating you. It might be worth having a conversation with them if you haven’t already.

Shutting Down the Problem

First, let’s review the common causes of a compromised email spreading out spam. A weak password is a common culprit; if you’re using an easy-to-guess password Dissecting the 25 Worst Passwords in the World [Weird & Wonderful Web] There are many simple ways to create easy to remember, but difficult to break passwords. But not everyone gets it. As this list of the weakest passwords prove, it is a large tribe. Read More , you need to replace it immediately with a rock-solid one you can remember 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More . If you frequently use public computers, know how to stay safe on public machines 5 Ways to Make Sure Public Computers You Use Are Safe Public WiFi is dangerous no matter what computer you're on, but foreign machines demand even greater caution. If you're using a public computer follow these guidelines to ensure your privacy and safety. Read More so you don’t accidentally share your login details. When you’re the one receiving the spam, never click on a strange hyperlink and never enter your email password without being sure it’s the real site.



Now, let’s take a look at how your can stop your email from being used as a spam-producing factory.

Change Your Password

The first thing you should do any time you suspect a breach of your account is to change your password. An intruder could be sitting dormant, so time is of the essence once you discover what’s up. Reading our password management guide Password Management Guide Don't feel overwhelmed by passwords, or simply use the same one on every site just so you'll remember them: design your own password management strategy. Read More can help iron out the any questions you might have. Changing your password ensures they’re blocked out in the future, but you still need to do a bit more.

Scan for Malware

At this point it’s not certain if the spam originated on your computer or from someone else, so it’s wise to run a scan to make sure you don’t have an infection on your system. Check out our resources for removing malware The Complete Malware Removal Guide Malware is everywhere these days, and eradicating malware from your system is a lengthy process, requiring guidance. If you think your computer is infected, this is the guide you need. Read More – using Malwarebytes Premium or SUPERAntiSpyware (which we’ve covered in-depth SUPERAntiSpyware Is A Vital Tool In The Fight Against Malware Read More ) should get the job done. If you discover something particularly nasty, go through the steps to take when you find malware 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More before moving on with your email problem.


It’s also wise to check for browser infections at this point – we’ve looked at how to clean up Chrome 3 Essential Steps To Get Rid Of Chrome Hijackers In Minutes Have you ever opened your browser of choice and been greeted with a bizarre-looking start page or an unsightly toolbar glued to the top of the page? Restore your browser to tip-top shape. Read More , and no matter what browser you’re using, you can defeat pop-up ads Let's Put A Stop To Pop-Up Browser Ads Once And For All! Pop-ups can catch you off guard, and if you're not careful they can create problems. Learn how to avoid them and how to handle them if they do come up. Read More and clean your extensions in the process. Change your password again if you find evidence of keyloggers 5 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Keyloggers Keyloggers are one of the most feared threats to computer security. Heed these tips so you don't fall victim to hackers. Read More on your system; you wouldn’t want to hand over your new password to malware!

Check the Spam’s IP Address

Now it’s time to find out how the spam email came into being. There are two likely options: either someone got into your account from stealing your password, phishing, or some other means, or the email never actually touched your account and it was simply spoofed to make it look like it was coming from you. In case of the second scenario, you can trace emails back to their source How to Trace Emails Back to Their Source IP Address Here's how to trace that email back to where it came from... and why you'd want to do it! Read More and see through the trickery. We’ll illustrate how to do this in Gmail, but the process will be similar for other mail clients.

On any email (have someone who received the spam forward it to you if you don’t have a copy), simply click the little arrow to the right of the Reply button to show all options and choose View Original. Here you can see all the technical details of the email (it’s unfortunate, but the view we’re accustomed to can be easily faked).


Look for Received From near the top of all this text; that’s the IP address that the message originated from. You can trace its journey down the list until it hits your address. Put the IP into an information site like IP-Lookup to see where it’s from and who own the address. If the address seems totally random, it’s likely it was used as a forgery for the explicit purpose of spamming.


In this case, we see that Ryan’s email originated from Google’s mail server, which checks out because he was using Gmail. If this were spam, we’ve already looked at the steps to find out what happened – a strange IP address in your account history means someone actually signed into your account from their IP address. Finding that your email is being forwarded to a strange address or remembering that you clicked a shady link probably means your email is being spoofed.

Check to Ensure Everything Else is in Order

Now that you’ve identified and shut down the issue, let’s make sure no traces remain. You’ll want to check areas such as your signature You Too Can Benefit From The Power Of Email Signatures A signature tells you something about a personality. Just as two people hardly write alike, they also sign differently. That's how the "science" of Graphology came into being. But the digital age and the email... Read More and forwarding rules How to Set Up Email Filters in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook Email filtering is your best tool in keeping your inbox neat and organized. Here's how to set up and use email filters in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Outlook. Read More to be sure that nobody set up a filter to send all of your email to their own address, for example. To double-check, send an email to one of your contacts and have them forward it back to you, or send to another address you have to make sure everything is clean.


In addition, take this chance to make sure your account info is up-to-date. Do you have an old phone number or dead email address registered as an emergency contact? Make sure you have ways to get into your account if it were to be attacked again. Review the apps that are allowed to access your account (anywhere you’ve signed in with your Google account Google+ Sign-In: Is It Bad Or Good For You? Users are beginning to accept the fact that Google may not be rolling back Google+ sign-in regardless of how much people hate it. But is it really as bad as you think? Read More , for instance) and be certain none of them are abusing privileges.

Notify Your Contacts

Finally, you’ll want to send a courtesy email to your contacts letting them know your account was compromised and that you’ve got things under control again. Perhaps you could even ask them to let you know in the future (by other means, such as Facebook message or call, would be best) if the problem comes up again. Hopefully your friends know how to spot fraud emails 5 Examples To Help You Spot A Fraud Or Fake Email The shift from spam to phishing attacks is noticeable, and is on the rise. If there's a single mantra to keep in mind, it's this -- the number one defense against phishing is awareness. Read More and don’t fall for any spam that comes their way, but it’s best to warn them in case.

Let’s Never do This Again

Thankfully, once you’ve cleaned up this mess it doesn’t have to happen again in the future. Many of the things you’ve done above will help protect your account in the future, such as using a better password. Going the extra mile is smart in this case; try using two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More on major websites that support it Lock Down These Services Now With Two-Factor Authentication Two-factor authentication is the smart way to protect your online accounts. Let's take a look at few of the services you can lock-down with better security. Read More . Another good plan is to set up an alternate, permanent email address and add it to the contacts list of your primary email. That way, if you ever start churning out spam again, your secondary email will receive a copy and you’ll know right away.

Above all, be vigilant. You have a responsibility to keep your accounts free of infection Why You Have a Responsibility to Keep Your Hardware Secure & Malware Free Keeping your computer clean isn't just smart: it's your civic duty. A malware-ridden computer doesn't just slow you down, it infects your friends' and family's computers, putting them at risk. Read More , in this case due to the very real threat of sending malicious links to your friends. Even if you haven’t experienced this problem, take the time to use the steps here to perform a little email security audit (Google has even more tips) and be sure you’re doing your part to protect against spam. Too many people aren’t and it’s why these problems persist.

On the receiving end of spam instead? Knowing how to spot a dangerous email attachment How to Spot Unsafe Email Attachments: 6 Red Flags Reading an email should be safe, but attachments can be harmful. Look for these red flags to spot unsafe email attachments. Read More and how spammers get your email in the first place How Do Spammers Find Your Email Address? Spam is the closest thing we’ll ever find to an Internet plague. No matter who you are, spam will one day find you and you’ll have no choice but to put up with its pestilence.... Read More will be interesting and helpful.

Has your email account ever spewed out spam? Have you ever fallen for a friend’s account sending you a malicious link? Share your stories and tips in the comments!

Image Credits: man sleeping Via Shutterstock, Spam via Shutterstock, Frustrated Caller via Shutterstock

Related topics: Email Tips, Online Security, Spam.

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  1. Richard
    March 29, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    An excellent article. But might I remind you about 'spoofing' email. This happened to me. The email I got was from myself, when my PC was turned off, so I was very concerned. Using a similar method to find the from IP address in my outlook account it actually originated in the United States, not the UK where I live.