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Why am I getting undeliverable or bounce messages for email I didn't send?

Spammers commonly forge the headers of messages they send, making it appear as though they originated elsewhere. This is called "spoofing". Spammers harvest vast numbers of email addresses, or even guess common email addresses, and then put these addresses in the "To:" and the "From:" fields of the millions of email messages they send out. Some of the messages they send will end up bouncing, and when they do, the forged address in the "From:" (or "Sender") field, which may be yours, receives a non-delivery receipt (or bounce).

There are also viruses, such as Klez and Sobig, that spoof the sender's address. An infected computer sends out infected messages and puts addresses in the "To:" and "From:" fields that it finds somewhere on the infected computer (these email addresses could even be in a stored document or cached web page). If the "To:" address doesn't work, the message bounces, often back to the "From:" address, which may be yours.

To make sure that your computer is not infected, UITS recommends that you update your virus pattern file and scan your computer; check your antivirus software help for instructions. If you find no viruses, then you can assume that your email address was spoofed.

For tips on how to reduce the opportunities for both spammers and viruses to get your email address, see:

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Last modified on December 19, 2012.

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