Q: I keep receiving emails in my spam folder that say they are from my own email address. When I look in my sent folder there is nothing in there showing I sent myself anything. How can someone be using my email address? — Jeanne
A: As with most things that involve the online world, you can’t take what you’re seeing at face value (in other words, the messages aren’t actually being sent from your account).
The good news is that your account likely isn’t compromised; the bad news is that there’s little you can do to stop it.
Just like with snail-mail, there is nothing to stop anyone from forging or ‘spoofing’ the return address of any piece of mail.
The most likely cause of these messages is that a spam-bot forged your return address on junk messages as a diversion tactic or in hopes of fooling those who may know you.
The longer you have your email address and the more you submit it to various Web sites, etc. the more likely it will be in circulation and make it into a database for spammers.
This generally doesn’t mean that you’re infected or that your account has been hacked or hijacked, but rather someone that has your email address in their address book has been infected by an auto-spamming ‘bot’ or the spammers are simply trying to fake out your spam filter by using your own address to yourself.
All it takes is one of your friends to get infected by one of the thousands of malware programs designed to harvest email addresses to get the ball rolling.
The automated code randomly selects someone from the address book of the infected computer to appear to be the sender and then sends the junk message to everyone else in the address book.
The spammers figured out a long time ago that if they sent spam from an account and included the actual infected computer’s email address as the sender, it wouldn’t take long for the victim to be notified that they were infected.
By forging the sender’s address, the wrong person gets accused of being infected, allowing the nefarious activities to continue from the actual infected computer.
They also realized that the chances of the recipient opening the junk message increased if it came from someone that they may know. Logically, some percentage of email addresses in anyone’s address book would be acquaintances and so it goes.
The reason that you’re seeing messages in your spam folder that appear to be from you is your mail system is automatically filtering out messages that it figured out didn’t actually come from you.
Most major email systems use a process to ‘authenticate’ messages that come from their mail servers so messages that have your email address as the sender that were not authenticated will end up in your spam folder.
Included in this auto-filtering process are any spoofed messages that result from delivery failures which would ‘bounce’ back to you.
If you think your account has actually been hijacked, change the password and update any of the security questions to play it safe.
Every mail system has specific guidance for what you should do if you suspect that your account has been compromised, so check the support section of your specific mail system for the proper steps.
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show