Archived article from the year 2000
"Your data has a social life too"

Harassment via email


Dealing with

Reading email headers

Complaining to a sender's ISP

Harassment menu


You'll be lucky if your local police have the technical knowledge to help you deal with online harassment, but there are things you can do to help yourself.

Dealing with harassment

If it all goes wrong and you receive unpleasant email, the first question to ask yourself is, from our correspondence so far, can I be identified in the real world?

If you can't, and you've taken the precaution of using a special email address, the solution is easy. Create a new address, send it to people you want to continue correspondence with, and abandon the old one. It's the equivalent of walking away from an unpleasant situation, and it's by far the best solution.

If you can be identified or you've used a high-value email address, the problem gets trickier.

1. Consult the WHOA site for advice. In some cases you should not respond to the offending mail. In many cases you should send one short response asking the sender to desist.

2. Share the problem with a friend, preferably somebody who can cope with the full details. Make sure they have a record of the correspondence.

3. Keep the bad emails, don't delete them. Store them, possibly on a disk. They may be needed later if the problem gets worse and the authorities become involved.

4. Try to objectively assess the seriousness of the situation. Which of the following categories does the bad mail fall under?
A: impolite persistence
B: unpleasant harassment, possibly of an obscene nature, but with no clear danger
C: threatening - where potential harm is implied or can be inferred from the state of mind of the sender.

5. Most authorities and other people who can assist you will expect you to deal with categories A and B yourself. They're far too busy trying to help people deal with category C problems.

6. If you're sure you have a category C problem, contact the police, but bear in mind that their knowledge of the Internet may be scanty. If you have a computer crime police department in your area, you're in luck and you should definitely contact them. If you are unable to get help from the authorities, contact WHOA.

7. Learn how email works and see if you can identify the sender. You may wish to contact the sender's ISP. They will probably help if the situation is serious.

And finally, after all this unpleasant stuff, bear in mind that cyberstalking is relatively rare given the massive volume of emails that are sent every day. By taking a few precautions, you give yourself a good chance of being able to walk away if it ever happens to you.

Avoiding the problem

Reading email headers

Complaining to an ISP

Personal data
Mobile phones



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