Reverse E-mail Lookup to Discover Who Has Sent You a Message

Last Updated Jul 2, 2010 12:38 AM EDT

Most of the e-mail cold calls I get are just plain old spam. No great mystery there - I just sweep those into the trash. But occasionally I get messages from real people without a lot of context. Sometimes they're readers, sometimes editors, and sometimes someone reaching out with some sort of business proposal.

Being the curious sort, I like to dig around and see what I can learn before writing back. If you find yourself in the same boat - wanting to learn more about who has sent you an e-mail - here are a few strategies for performing a reverse e-mail lookup.

Keep in mind that reverse e-mail lookups are far from reliable, and won't give you the instant gratification and almost assured results of a reverse phone number lookup. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can try. Digital Inspirations recently described four things you can try -- here are the highlights of what they had to say:

  • Try Facebook. First stop: Enter the e-mail address into Facebook. With an eighth of the world's population in Facebook, you stand a good chance of finding your contact pretty quickly. Depending upon how much of their profile is public, you might learn a lot.
  • Google the name. No joy in Facebook? Run the individual's name through a search engine. If it's an unusual name, you might get lucky. If you can pair the name with a location or some other information in the e-mail, you dramatically increase the chances of success.
  • Try a photo match. If you have a picture of the person, you can run it through TinyEye, which searches for other instances of the photo elsewhere on the Internet. You might have a picture from the e-mail or, more likely, from Facebook (if #1 was successful). TinEye can help you find Web sites, blogs, and other social networking sites where your contact might have deposited more personal information.
  • Try a People Search. If all else fails, try a people search site like Spokeo. Spokeo does an automated reverse e-mail lookup for you, tracking down social networks, blog entries, and other traces on the Web. Unfortunately, Spokeo costs money to actually see the goods, so it's a last resort.
Photo by Tony the Misfit