How to Handle Emails You Receive That Are Intended for Someone Else

By: standss , Mar 6th, 2012

Do you occasionally receive emails that were accidentally sent to you (maybe because your email address is very similar to someone else)? What should you do when this happens… and how can you avoid making this mistake yourself.

I recently saw an article on LifeHacker on this topic. Their recommendations were as follows.

  1. You’re not actually ethically bound to do anything.
  2. Forward it. Don’t Delete it. Their recommendation is to forward it to the intended recipient and CC the sender (I recommend something different below)

My Recommendation

My preferred method for dealing with these emails is to, REPLY TO THE SENDER and let them know that they accidentally sent you the email. I do this because:

  1. It makes the sender aware of the mistake so they’ll be more careful in the future.
  2. The intended recipient is not aware that someone else received the email. This may be important if the sender is a good friend and the email contained confidential information (a lawyer friend once sent information to me that was meant for someone else… there was nothing confidential in that email but the next time there may have been).

How to avoid making this mistake yourself

This mistake is very easy to make if you’re a Microsoft Outlook user. Outlook has an Auto-complete feature that completes email addresses as you type them in the To, CC or Bcc fields of emails. It is very easy to accidentally pick the wrong email address from this list.

We have covered how you can protect yourself in the past in:

Preventing Disasters caused by Outlook’s Autocomplete feature

For additional protection you may also want to look at Send Guard for Outlook which can prompt you for confirmation before any emails are sent out.

SendGuard Send Confirm screen

The prompt has the recipient’s name which can serve as an additional warning. (SendGuard users… you can turn this on using the Settings Screen and selecting the Send Confirm tab)

What do you do when you get misdirected emails? Do you forward it or reply… do you delete? Please share your own ideas by leaving a comment.

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