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Where Spam Comes From

Spammers will usually do everything they can to obscure the source of the email they send. The From: and To: lines on an email are meant to indicate the source and destination addresses of an email message, but spammers rarely observe that convention.

In order to see the true source and destination of an email, you must look at the full headers of the email. Most email programs disply only limited header information, and special steps are necessary to view the full headers. Instructions for viewing the full headers, with several popular email programs, is included below.

Here is a portion of the full headers of an email. Please take note of the lines that begin with Received: These represent the full, authentic routing of the email, from the source to the destination.

From Thu May 13 21:34:01 2004
Received: from ([])
        by (8.11.6p3/8.11.6p3) with SMTP 
        id i4E2Xxt11976; Thu, 13 May 2004 21:34:00 -0500 (CDT)
Received: from 
        ( []) by (8.12.10/8.12.9) with ESMTP 
        id ar142AYCEDN623493 for <> 
        Thu, 13 May 2004 10:25:10 -0500 (EST)
Message-ID: <>>
Reply-To: "maryrose" <>
From: "maryrose" <>
To: "Frank" <>
Subject: Fwd: V|cod:|n $ Xan+a+x $ v1@gra + /Valium/ |S|oma ( 
/P/ntermin crgwdin amxkq
Date: Thu, 12 May 2004 04:28:10 -0600

What you are looking for is the Received: line with the oldest date and time.

In this case it is, Thu, 13 May 2004 10:25:10 -0500 (EST). This is the genuine date and time, which does not match the 12 May in the Date: header.

This email originated from which has no relation to - the 'gladis' and 'maryrose' are completely ficticious. The destination of this email is for <> which you see does not match the To: header

(You should be aware that some spammers insert ficticious Received: lines to further try to obscure the source of their spam.)

Viewing Full Headers

An email message is nothing more than a text file. At the beginning of the message, there are several lines called headers. These contain the Received: lines which contain the authentic routing information for the email message. Most email programs will only display limited headers, like the From:, Date:, Subject:, and To: headers.

Here are including instructions for viewing full messages headers in several of the most common email programs:

Reporting Spam

If you wish to report spam, full headers should be sent to the abuse contact for the originating mail server. However, this will not be a wise course, if that mail server exists only for the purpose of sending spam.

We recommend you consider using an established spam reporting service, such as SpamCop to forward spam complaints to the proper authority.

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