Oops, I sent an important email to the wrong recipient. What now?

Oops, I sent an important email to the wrong recipient. What now?

Let's face it: we've all sent an important email to the wrong person. This is a frequently asked question for a reason, after all! We've all had that moment where we hit auto-select and sent off an email to Peter Johnson instead of Peter Smith. It becomes trickier when there's sensitive information in that email not meant for unauthorized eyes... So to solve the matter once and for all: how do we recall an email? 

The answer is not always as simple as hitting a button (if only!). First thing's first: Do you use a secure email solution? Then there's high odds that you can recall the email! If you don't use a secure email solution yet, we highly recommend that you start thinking about it


How the retrieval of an email can prevent a data leak

This market is saturated with stories about things that go wrong when sending an email. Like selecting the wrong recipient through auto-fill or clicking on “answer all”, where everyone now gets to enjoy your client's personal info. 

One of our recent examples came from the healthcare industry. Employee X had accidentally sent a file to a colleague, who was not authorized to view it. Fortunately, this healthcare facility possessed a secure email solution, which made it possible to block the sent file. Before the recipient had the opportunity to view the message, it had already been blocked. We call that a blessing in disguise! 

Of course, the market has been providing for our human mistakes. These are the email solutions that make recalling an email possible:

  • How to recall an email in Outlook

    You can withdraw sent e-mails in Outlook, but only if the recipient also uses Outlook. If your recipient uses Gmail, you can stop reading these instructions. If the both of you use Outlook, read on!

    • Go to your sent items and double-click on the email to open the message. In the top right corner you should find 'actions', click that. If not you will need to click on the three dots in the top right corner of your screen before 'actions' becomes visible.
    • Click on 'recall this message'
    • You can now delete all unread copies of your message and replace them with a new message if necessary.

      Note: this only works if the message is still unread by the recipient. It will not work if the email has been moved to another folder. 


  • How to recall an email in Gmail

    When you use Gmail, it is possible to withdraw a message but only if you're quick. The email can only be recalled within 30 seconds after sending and yes that's the maximum! If you were too late to meet the 30-second rule, you can stop reading from this point on. 

    • After you've sent a message, you'll see 'message sent' at the bottom of your screen and the option to 'Undo' or 'View message'. 
    • Click on 'undo'.
    • If you wish to change your settings, click on the top right to view settings where you'll see 'Undo send'. 
    • Select a cancellation period of 5, 10, 20 or 30 seconds. 


    If you thought 'this doesn't sound very user-friendly' you'd be correct! Gmail only affords you thirty seconds to recall sent emails, after which you're unfortunately out of luck. And as we all know, sending information to the wrong recipient counts as a data breach. Thirty seconds isn't nearly enough time to rectify that mistake. 


  • How to recall an email with SmartLockr

    So what about SmartLockr? Whenever you send an email with SmartLockr, you will be able to track the email journey. Pretty cool, right? But it serves another purpose: You know whether the recipient has already received or opened the file. SmartLockr therefore allows you to: 
    • Block a file
    • Block a recipient
    • Block an entire email message

    This is all possible regardless of which email client a customer is using, so no need to worry about whether they use Gmail or Outlook. Additionally, by sending your files in a secure environment, it is always possible to block the file remotely after your email has been sent. That means that even if the recipient has seen the link, that link and its attachment become useless to them.

    SmartLockr allows you to have more ownership than standard email clients, reducing the risk of a data leak.



The consequences of a wrongly sent email.

In the case you are not as lucky to recall your email, please make sure to follow these considerations into account:

  • Send an email in which you apologize for what has happened. This is both professional and shows you understand the gravity of the situation.
  • Inform your customers, regardless of the seriousness of the data breach, about what has transpired.
  • It is possible you could lose a customer.
  • It is also likely you could lose your job if the breach has costly consequences for the organization or
  • Nothing happens, as you did not report the breach.

Naturally, it all depends on the nature of the email you've accidentally sent out. After all, who wouldn't like more people showing up to their birthday party? 

The case becomes more serious when you've sent out personal data, because that's considered to be a data breach and in violation of GDPR. At worst, you will be subject to financial consequences and a company's reputation might also be damaged as a result. At best, you might be labeled as careless and damage your colleagial relationships. 

Whether the breach must be reported to the supervisory authority depends on several things. Check here which authority you need to report to. 

Tips that help you email safely

There is no such thing as being too careful when exchanging sensitive information. Here's our tips for emailing safely:

  • Understand what went wrong, to prevent repetition in the future.
  • Limit the potential consequences by promptly taking action when something has gone wrong. Contact your recipient immediately as well as check whether the breach has to be reported with your local authorities (like the Dutch Data Protection Authority). 
  • Make use of a secure email solution that helps you communicate safely. Your best bet is a solution that limits the possibility of human errors. 

Keep data breaches at bay

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