What Do I Do When I Receive Someone Else’s Email?

What Do I Do When I Receive Someone Else’s Email?

If you have a popular name combination, or just get a lot of email at work, you’re bound to get an email that wasn’t intended for you. You could ignore it, sure, but there are better ways to handle it.

To get some solid tips on how to handle this all-too-common issue, I chatted with someone who’s no stranger to getting emails intended for someone else: Liz Miller, who operates the clever Wrong Liz Miller blog. She says she always responds to wrong emails if she can help it:

I even used to have a macro for my standard response: “Wrong Liz Miller — please check your address and try again.” It’s more of a good karma thing than anything, since it doesn’t take too long, but it also (hopefully) ensures that the sender a) figures out their error and b) doesn’t repeat it down the line.

So that’s all it takes most of the time. The sender will see that they made a mistake and re-send to the right person. Or, if you know who the intended recipient is (like in an office situation), it’s fine to forward it to them so they get it in a timely manner. That said, some people don’t learn from their mistakes. That’s why Miller recommends you hold onto those messages:

My biggest tip with wrong emails is to archive them in a folder/label if you can, because it’s a good way to track patterns (i.e. — if you get a lot from the the same people). Also, let’s say someone creates an account for a site or service using your email; you may need the original sign-up email (with identifying details) to correct the error.

For frequent offenders who don’t take the hint, feel free to block them so your inbox isn’t constantly getting filled with to-dos you shouldn’t have to waste your time on. At the end of the day, there’s no ethical obligation for you to do anything with wrong email, especially if you’ve already tried to point them in the right direction.


  • http://xkcd.com/1279

    I’m the Nick Partridge that is a Project Manager in Brisbane – not – based on misdirected emails:
    a chemist in Perth
    a student in Texas,
    a jock in Chicago,
    stood for council in Kingston (on Thames? Ontario?),
    in advertising in NYC,
    a knight of the realm (though I’ve never had any of Sir Nick’s emails),
    lives in Staffs,
    was seeking insurance in Georgia (state not nation),
    might or might not have gone on a stag in Vegas,
    a carpenter in Chesham – who printed cards with my email address on!,
    a rower from North Devon,
    signed me up for Groupon (USA) 5 times in 2 days,
    invited ‘me’ to Shaun’s bachelor party,
    applies for jobs but wonders why the employers never get back to him – for clarity he didn’t get any of them – except for the advertising guy but he must have figured things out as I’ve been able to passively track his career!.

    I idly wonder if I have enough material for a book or at least a blog posting.

    Don’t get me started on the fool who tries to change my instagram password about 3 times every weekend.

  • I’ve received airline tickets
    House revaluations
    Copies of passports
    Copies of credit cards
    Copies of bank statements (for the house evaluation and mortgage)
    Pay slips

    Lucky these folk live in Canada and the UK

  • Some lady in Canada keeps handing out my email as hers. I wish I could figure out what her real email is and let her know, I’ve had to just reply to the important sounding emails telling them to try another method of contacting the woman because she gave out the wrong email. It’s frustrating that she doesn’t know her own email!

  • I’ve always forwarded them to the correct person (only happens in the work email), that was until he sent a snarky response about it.

    Now, they just get deleted, and he can thank himself for the situation. I’m not his secretary.

  • Having been an early adopter and picked up my surname as username on various services, I get quite a few emails from people missing the initials or numbers or whatever from (presumably) my distant cousins’ versions.
    Most just get a reply, pointing out the mistake. Some of them are login details and I’ve spent some time looking for the real person on a few that seemed important.
    Some are logins for dodgy sites (“wellhungxxx” at a senior swinger site, eg) and they get their profiles and preferences changed in a way that makes them want to fix their access pronto!

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