People who have malicious intent will readily and repeatedly publish harmful statements on the Internet if they are confident that they can mask their identity. As you might expect, most publishers of Internet defamation and other online reputation attacks are distributing their damaging content anonymously.
A common method for spreading such defamation is through email. You may be a victim of such false attacks, and you may need to discover the identity of the person behind a Gmail account. Perhaps you’re aware of anonymous, annoying emails that are harmful to your personal or business reputation. It is possible to investigate and learn the identity of such sources.
Pursuing an attacker for Internet defamation requires unmasking a person’s identity. Along with help from experts such as CIS, you can accomplish this in a number of ways—including cyber investigation, forensic exams, and subpoenas.
Consulting with a good cyber investigator is a proven, cost-effective method of identifying malicious actors on the Internet. They can successfully obtain the IP addresses of unknown publishers and posters, which can then be used to issue subpoenas to one or more ISPs to obtain subscriber information.
A note before we continue: You may see advertisements that guarantee results for few hundred dollars. It’s important to be careful, because these usually are scams. They don’t produce the actual name of the malicious party behind the email address.
As we explain below, pursuing a source identity is probably not a simple task that you will successfully perform on your own. So, one of the first things to ask yourself is this: Why do you want to obtain this information? If you are only wanting this information to satisfy a curiosity, then we suggest that you stop wasting your time. The trouble and effort that are necessary is quite unlikely to be worth the small reward that you might gain.
If, on the other hand, you are experiencing emails that pertain to something illegal—either civilly or criminally—then there may indeed be strong motivation to begin the process of learning the identity of a Gmail user or subscriber.
Take a moment to understand why this is difficult. One of the first things you have to realize is that Google and many other companies value the privacy of their users. Google intentionally hides originating IP address information of it centers, as do most other email service providers. Additionally, bad actors and criminals usually don’t use a Gmail account through which they normally conduct their personal or company business, because they know such accounts are more easily traceable. Instead, they register a separate account that is very difficult to trace.
There are three primary ways methods for learning the identity of a Gmail user or subscriber. The first is, for existing accounts, to attempt a lookup of the identity in a database. Or, you can try more sophisticated online searches to find clues about the source identity. Sometimes, this is simple as looking the email address in a Spokeo account. But it is often necessary to have access to more extensive and verifiable databases that are only available to law-enforcement and private investigators.
A second way to identify a Gmail account is to obtain the IP address of the sender. While it is not possible to obtain this information from the header of a Gmail, sophisticated IP traps can be set up to try to catch the IP address of the user. With this IP trip address in hand, a potential match can be made to the IP address(es) of known suspects. When such a match occurs, you’ll often obtain information about the sender’s location (city and state). If that turns out not to be enough, unfortunately then you must resort to subpoena tactics.
Before we go further, it’s important to share this disclaimer: we are not attorneys, so we don’t offer legal advice but we regularly consult attorneys on the best strategies.
Now for the third method, subpoenas. Subpoenas are an option for both civil and criminal cases. With a subpoena, it’s possible to obtain the records from Google—the owner of the Gmail service. It’s unlikely that you’ll find the person’s identity in the account information, but an IP address will be there. By executing another subpoena, you can use the IP address to discover the name that corresponds to that IP address. Usually, this requires the services of both an attorney and a company such as CIS that has solid skills in the art of obtaining this technical information.
It’s important to understand something else about subpoenas. A common misbelief—among attorneys as well as the general public—is that Google will not respond to subpoenas. This simple isn’t true. Google does indeed respond, and CIS has been successful in retrieving positive identifying information in several hundred cases. We get results because we know all of the specific steps that are necessary to get the information that you need. We are very precise in our inquiries, get the correct information, and take the correct legal steps to engage properly with email service providers such as Google.
As we wrap up this article, we offer this recommendation: Go through these steps only when the case is severe. Again, we don’t encourage this approach if you’re merely seeking to satisfy a curiosity.
The team at CIS has the skills to manage the entire process in this article to obtain the identity of the email source. If your case is serious, then contact us so that we can help you go in the right direction.