Outlook Undeliverable Messages

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Ken writes, I am getting a lot of messages in my Outlook express that says I have undeliverable messages that I have sent, which I haven't, some say undeliverable, some say Daemon returned mail and I forget what the others say but they have my e-mail address and others on them and I don't know how my e-mail address got on them, what can I do? is it somebody got my address and is using it to send spam or viruses? I need to know how to get my address off so I don't get those anymore. Do I have to format my hard drive and re install Windows XP again or will that do any good.

We all get those messages. Or most of us do. If you aren't getting a handful of those messages every week, count yourself as part of a lucky few. The idea behind the undeliverable mail message is the same as a returned to sender stamp from the real world postal service. It's supposed to indicate the person you tried to mail can't be reached at the address used for some reason. It's become a symbolic indicator that somewhere, someone with access to your email address has a problem. And there's very little you can do to stop it.

Where The Mail Comes From

It's hard to identify exactly where the source of these bounced messages is coming from. You can view the full email header information to see the path the message took before it ended up as a bounce message in your inbox, but even then you won't know for certain how it got there. The likelihood of your home computer being involved in the sending of the message that bounced is very low.

The two most likely scenarios in generating the messages that bounce are someone you know with an infected computer or someone who spams having your email address on a list. In both cases, the source computer often randomly generates a From and To address from a group of email addresses.

In the case of an infected friend, your email address is in their address book and so you become part of the source list of potential To and From addresses. It's just as likely you are also getting spam messages To your email address as a result of this scenario.

Spammers have a variety of ways of generating messages to send. One common method is to infect computers with malicious software that sends mail whenever the computer is connected to the internet. This software can get installed as a spyware payload during the installation of another application. It may also be installed as a virus infection when someone clicks on an infected file in an email message.

There's also the possibility that your email address is part of a large database of email addresses a spammer sends email to. In many cases, spammers use one or many of the addresses in these lists as the To address to get around spam defenses that don't allow more than a certain number of messages from the same address to a domain in a given time period. For instance, they might make the From address your email address for 10 messages sent to @hotmail.com addresses, and my email address for the next 10 messages to @hotmail.com addresses so that hotmail.com won't block the mail.

What You Can Do

The short answer is, not much. But there are things you can do to help make sure your computer and computers belonging to people you know don't become part of the problem.

Protecting Your Computer by keeping your anti-spyware and anti-virus software up-to-date is crucial in making sure you don't become part of the problem. I really like Microsoft's Windows Defender software as an anti-spyware solution, but just make sure you are using something. For anti-virus software, something like ClamWin or AVG are good choices in the free realm. Depending on who your ISP is, they may have a free option you can use as well. I know Microsoft uses Computer Associates eTrust product to protect their mail.

Protecting Your Friends and Family can help in reducing the amount of spam and undeliverable messages you get in your own inbox. If you have friends who are less technical than you are, help them make sure their anti-virus and anti-spyware software is on and up-to-date. Family holiday gatherings are a good time to make sure security patches and software updates are in place at relatives houses. Instead of buying relatives something they don't really need for a birthday or holiday, get them this year's update to their software protection suite. If you shop around you can always find discounts on security software.

For instance here are a few companies with special offers for Anti-virus products:

Save $20! on ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.5

PC-cillin Internet Security 2007

Receive a discount on Kaspersky Lab products

CA - Internet Security Software with Identity Theft Protection

The bottom line is to proceed with caution and choose the methods to insure your computing experience is safe the same way you'd insure other valued assets. Help your friends get smarter by educating them about computer safety. And in the meantime, delete those undeliverable messages because you can't do much about them anyway.