How To Trace an Email Address

As more people get online, the number of scammers sending malicious content – including fake emails – increases. Email spam is an annoyance for all and can leave unsuspecting users vulnerable to malware attacks or even identity theft. Fortunately, a great way to help investigate and confirm an email is spam is by tracing the email address via email headers. The following steps will walk you through how to trace an email address for free to assist in avoiding email phishing scams as well as other types of abuse.

How can I trace an email?

Tracing an email is easy. Every email contains the information you need to trace it back to the original sender’s IP address. An email has two parts: the body, which is the information sent to the recipient within the message, and the header.

The email header includes the ‘To,’ ‘From,’ ‘Date,’ and ‘Subject’ lines, but it also contains important metadata within the email. The body of an email contains no traceable information. Therefore, the only way to trace an email address back to its owner is by analyzing the email header.

What are email headers?

Email headers are snippets of code that contain metadata about the email, including the email’s route, content type, and date of delivery. It helps authenticate the email. They also contain information about the message and its originating IP address, which is the IP address of the sender. The header information can help you trace the IP address that sent the email.

Why trace an email header?

Email headers are essential to track down any malicious emails, spam, or other reasons to track where the email came from. If someone is spamming you or sending you threats via email, you can use the email header data to possibly trace the originating IP to get the location of the sender. Additionally, using email headers to trace an email address will allow you to flag emails from particular senders to avoid future email phishing scams.

Note that it’s not necessarily possible to trace an email right back to the person or entity that sent it. At most, the results of the trace will show you the origination IP and the computer name that sent the email. However, this data still helps you prevent future spam emails and allows you to report IP abuse if necessary.

How to trace an email header

To trace an email, you first need to locate the header. Each email program varies as to how users can get to the message options. However, regardless of program, the headers are easily accessible. These steps work for Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Live, Hotmail, and any other email application, email server, or email client.

Outlook 2010, 2013, and 2019 (Windows Only)

Follow these steps to learn how to trace an email in Outlook:

1. Add Message Options to the Quick Access Toolbar by selecting the down arrow in the upper left corner and choosing More Commands.  If you already have Message Options on your Quick Access Toolbar, proceed to step 3 below.

Headers from Outlook

2. When the pop-up window comes up, follow these steps:

  • Choose All Commands from the top dropdown.
  • Scroll until you find Message Options, then select it.
  • Select Add in the middle of the console.
  • Message Options should now show up as a chosen command.
  • Select OK. You should now see the Message Options icon in your Quick Access Toolbar at the top left corner.

Headers from Outlook

3.  Select the email from which you wish to get the headers.

4. Select the Message Options icon in the top left corner. A box similar to the one below should appear.

Headers from Outlook

5. Copy the data in the Internet headers box by clicking within the box and pressing Ctrl+A to select all the text. Then press Ctrl+C to copy the highlighted text.

6. Paste (Ctrl+V) the data into our Email Header Analyzer Tool and click Analyze.

Gmail

Follow these steps to learn how to trace an email in Gmail:

1. Open an email within your web browser. Select the drop-down arrow next to the Reply button in the top right corner and choose Show Original from the drop-down menu.

Trace an email from GMail

2. Once the new page opens (the example is not shown for security reasons), press Ctrl+A, then Ctrl+C to copy all of the data within the window on a PC. On a Mac, press Cmd+A, then Cmd+C to copy all data within the window.

3. Paste (Ctrl+V) the data into our Email Header Analyzer Tool and click Analyze.

Yahoo!

1. Open an email within your web browser. Next, select the More drop-down arrow and choose View Full Header.

Trace an email from Yahoo!

2. Once the new page opens (the example is not shown for security reasons), press Ctrl+A, then Ctrl+C to copy all of the data within the window on a PC. On a Mac, press Cmd+A, then Cmd+C to copy all data within the window.

3. Paste (Ctrl+V) the data into our Email Header Analyzer Tool and click Analyze.

Live.com, Hotmail.com, and Outlook.com

Follow these steps to learn how to trace an email on Live.com, Hotmail.com, or Outlook.com:

1. Open an email within your web browser. Next, select the Actions drop-down arrow and choose View Message Source.

Trace an email from Live, Hotmail, and Outlook

2. Once the new page opens (the example is not shown for security reasons), press Ctrl+A, then Ctrl+C to copy all of the data within the window on a PC. On a Mac, press Cmd+A, then Cmd+C to copy all data within the window.

3. Paste (Ctrl+V) the data into our Email Header Analyzer Tool and click Analyze.

Outlook for Mac

Follow these steps to learn how to trace an email in Outlook on Mac:

1. Open an email within Outlook. Right-click the email and choose View Source.

Outlook for Mac Right Click View Source

2. Copy all of the data from the View Source window and paste it into the Email Header Analyzer Tool. Outlook for Mac View Source

Using the email header analyzer tool

Regardless of the email client you use, the Email Header Analyzer Tool is necessary for tracing an email header. The tool returns the IP attached to the initiating point.

Once you have the IP address, use the IP Address Lookup Tool to look up the IP address and determine the originating location of the email sender. IP address location information doesn’t include a street name, house number, or phone number; the trace email information will most likely determine the city and the ISP the sender used. 

Can you always trace an email address for free?

No, you can’t always trace an email address completely for free. For example, someone who sends a message to your Hotmail account shows in the X-Originating IP section of the headers. However, someone who sends you a message from Gmail will only trace back to a Google IP address.

Tracing an email address may not always bring you right to the email sender, but it does give you a starting point for further investigation. If you’re looking to trace the origins of an email address or email message, follow the steps above and see where the results take you.