How to Send an E-mail With a Previous Date
One of the most useful features of email is that it provides date tracking for messages; if I know I bought something from Amazon on February 11, 2019, then I can look in my emails for that day and find my receipt or my tracking confirmation.
However, sometimes there are reasons that users want to play with that date tracking, and backdate an email so that it appears to have been sent at an earlier date and time than it actually was.
Perhaps you’re trying to persuade a teacher that you sent your paper in before the deadline, or convince a boss that you sent an email about the Johnson Project when you were supposed to.
So, is it possible to send an email with a previous date?
While it is possible, it’s important to note that these methods are only sort of effective, and anybody who knows what to look for will be able to uncover the true date that the email was sent.
With that in mind, let’s look at how you can send an email with a previous date.
How to Send a Backdated Email
There a few different ways to go about backdating an email, including changing the date and time on your computer, using Inspect Element, or creating an SMTP server.
Change the Date & Time on Your Computer
One very basic way to send an email with a previous date is to change your PC’s clock to the time you are trying to simulate before sending the email. Some older email clients like Outlook Express will accept this date and send it to the email server with the local date and time.
Here’s the procedure:
- In Windows 10, right-click on the clock on your desktop.
- Select Adjust date/time.
- Change the date to whatever you need it to be and click Okay.
- Write and send your email.
While this method may work, the email metadata will still contain the correct date. As such, this method may fail for several reasons:
- Depending on how your email is set up, the time and date may also be overwritten by your email provider.
- Subsequent relay servers (the computers that send your email along towards its destination) will ignore the timestamp from the computer and use the server time anyway.
- The metadata from your email server will show the time it received the email from you, not the time you wrote and sent it.
- The receiving email server will still stamp the correct receipt time before it is forwarded on to the recipient.
For example, in the image of an email’s metadata above, the real time and date are included four separate times:
- Delivery-date: Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:31:45 +0100
- Received: from mail by mail147.extendcp.com with spamvirus-scanned (Exim 4.80.1) for EMAIL ADDRESS; Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:31:45 +0100
- Server (version=TLS1_0, cipher=TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA_P384) id 15.1.609.9; Thu, 8 Sep 2016 16:31:40 +0000
- Received: from DB5PR03MB1415.eurprd03.prod.outlook.com 15.01.0587.013; Thu, 8 Sep 2016 16:31:40 +0000
To view metadata for any email in Gmail, click the three dots in the top right corner of the email. Then, click “Show original.” As you can see from the screenshot below, the metadata will display the correct date and time for each stop the email makes on its way to the recipient.
Even if you could change your computer time, and it was reflected in your email application, the true time is visible for anyone to see if they do a little digging.
(Interested in how all this stuff works under the hood? Check out our tutorial on how TCP/IP works.)
Creating an SMTP server
So the email server is going to put the correct date and time stamp on your email, but what if you can set up and control your own email server?
E-mail works using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and SMTP servers are not incredibly difficult to set up or use.
If you have an earlier version of Windows, particularly a server OS such as Windows Server 2000, then you may already have an SMTP server on your PC and all you have to do is turn it on and configure it to send your emails.
However, Windows 10 no longer includes an SMTP server. Fortunately, there are a lot of free SMTP server programs out there and you can download one of them. This is rather a lot of trouble to go through just to get an email date to look different, but if it’s really necessary, this may be the only way.
Note that you must own a domain to use this procedure!
hMailServer is one of the most popular free email servers. I will give you a quick rundown on how to install and configure it.
- Get the latest version of hMailServer and download it.
- Run the installer. You can accept the default values.
- Be sure to make a note of the administrator password you choose, as you will need this later.
- Click Finish to complete the install.
- In the hMailServer interface, click the localhost, click Connect, and enter the password.
- Click the Domains tab.
- Click Add Domain.
- Enter your domain name and click Save.
- Click the domain name in the domain list on the left-hand side of the interface, and then click the Accounts subfolder.
- Click Add and enter the account information for the email account you are going to create on your domain.
For setting up the actual mail transfers, you will need to get information from the ISP with whom you’ve registered the domain. As I said, this isn’t a simple process and I’ve only given you the very basics here.
Using Inspect Element to Modify Webmail
If you are using Gmail or another webmail client, then use Google Chrome’s powerful “Inspect Element” functionality to temporarily modify the HTML code that displays an email on the screen, then take a screenshot of the displayed email to “prove” that the email has a particular date on it.
Keep in mind that this is essentially forgery, so be aware of your legal liability when engaging in this type of behavior.
- Open the email you want to modify in your Gmail account.
- Right-click on the displayed date and select Inspect from the context menu.
- Double-click on the time text under gridcell in the Element Inspector and change the text to the date and time you want the email to display. The text in the email itself changes when you hit Return in the Inspector.
- Quickly take a screenshot. The element will only display for a couple of seconds before Chrome changes it back to what the source HTML tells it is the true text.
- Trim your screenshot to just show the email with the modified date.
It won’t fool the FBI but it might be good enough for your professor.
If you need to backdate an email for any reason, there are a few methods to choose from. However, while it may fool individuals who don’t bother doing any digging, keep in mind that these methods are far from foolproof and likely won’t work against more tech-savvy people.
Any other tips or methods for sending backdated emails? Share them in the comments below!