Ever get an email from someone who you've never met? Whether it's a soliciation or a friendly introduction, there are a few ways you can learn more about the person who sent you an email without hiring a private investigation.
Step 1 - Traceroute the Sender's IP Address
The first step is to find out where the email is coming from. You can do this by opening up the email header and looking for a line that reads "Recieved: from." Here, you'll seee a list of IP addresses. If there are more than one IP address, take the last one in the list and plug it into a traceroute tool. This will show you the geographic location of the server that sent the email. Of course, the limitation to this is that it may not work for web-based email clients, such as Gmail, since Gmail does not record the sender's IP. But it is handy if you receive an email from a business. Your first step toward determining if they are legitimate is finding out if the location they advertise in their signature matches where they are sending it from. For example, if it's a pharmaceutical company that purports to sell discount drugs from Canada, but you discover that the email came from India, you might want to proceed carefully.
Step 2- Search Facebook for the Email Address
Facebook loves connecting friends with friends who are already on Facebook. One of the benefits to you that this provides is the ability to do a reverse email search on Facebook. Simply plug in the email address into Facebook and see if they are on the network. If they are, then you'll be able to find their real name and perhaps a little information about them, such as their picture.
Step 3 - Do a Reverse Image Search with TinEye
You can find out where else the sender of the email frequents by downloading their image and doing a reverse image search with TinEye. This will crawl the web for other websites and pages where the person's profile picture appears. This is handy because even if the picture is't an actual portrait of the user, you can find other screennames and social media profiles to continue investigating.
Step 4 - Do a Username Search on Knowem
Knowem is a service that queries hundreds of different social networks to see if the username you are looking for exists there. Begin by using the first part of the email address from the sender, but also plug in any usernames that got revealed when you did a reverse image search with TinEye.
Step 5 - Use a Premium People Search
The last step you should take is a premium people search, such as Spokeo. People searches reference data such as whois records, social network data and other information that you may not find on a normal web search. The downside is that you often have to pay or register for this information. So, if the above steps don't satisfy your curiosity, consider running a search on Spokeo for their email address or other identifying information.