How to Send an E-mail With a Previous Date
E-mail ties the world together in many ways. We use it for file transfers, for quick messages, to archive information – more than half of the population of the Earth has an email address as of March 2019, and the number of users grows significantly every year. One of the most useful features of e-mail 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 (usually) back-date an email so that it appears to have been sent at an earlier date and time than it actually was. We’re not here to judge your motives in wanting to do that; let’s assume that you have a legitimate reason for wanting to do it. So: is it possible to send an e-mail with a previous date?
The answer is “sort of, but it isn’t very effective.” It can be done, but the nature of the e-mail transport protocols are such that even a casual investigation of an email’s provenance will reveal that someone has been playing games. Anyone who knows what to look for will not be fooled. In this article, I will explain how you can send an e-mail with a previous date, but you should not expect that such a deception will go undiscovered.
How to send a backdated email
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, and then send the e-mail. Some older e-mail clients like Outlook Express will accept this date and send it to the e-mail 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.
How e-mail metadata works
While this method may work, the email metadata (all of the information sent along with an email) will still contain the correct date. Your plan will likely 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.
The metadata of every email shows the time and date the email was sent from the sender’s server and the time it was received by the recipient’s email server.
For example, in the image of an email’s metadata above, the real time and date is 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 our tutorial on how TCP/IP works.)
You can add an additional layer of credibility to your deception. Remember that your email server is going to put its own time and date stamp on your email? Well, what if you control the 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 your own SMTP server handling the initial step of your relay process, then you can make both your email and the first server relay show an earlier time. This could provide plausible evidence for a “but I sent it yesterday” claim on your part.
Creating an SMTP server
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. Note that this is rather a lot of trouble to go to just to get an email date to look different, but if you’re really up against it, 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.
(Want to use your ISP’s SMTP server to send emails? Check out this tutorial on using your ISP’s server to avoid sending too much mail. You might also look into this article on how to set up your GoDaddy email.)
Email is now regarded as legally binding. One of the reasons for that is the ability to track the real time and date of transmission as well as the sender and the email contents. Unfortunately, if you have missed a deadline, sending an email with a previous date likely will not work.