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Published On: February 23, 2018 by Blake Schwank

It happens to the best of us. We rush to get things done and make mistakes. Some are worse than others.

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Sending an email to the wrong person isn’t only embarrassing, but it can also affect your business. Whether you do this by accidentally hitting “Reply All” or selecting the wrong person from your address book, if your email contains confidential information then this can cause trouble.

You may have sent proprietary information for one client to another, provided access to a set of sensitive business documents to a vendor, revealed private health data to the wrong patient, or even sent an access code for your company’s bank account to an unsavory character. As a result, your business may face regulatory fines, legal issues, or suffer monetary or data theft.

What Can You Do?

One of the technical ways to prevent email mistakes is to delay your sent emails for a period of time. Although this isn’t foolproof, it can help if you plan in advance and set your email program for this.

You can delay emails in Gmail, Outlook and other email services. In some cases, your IT administrator can set this up for your entire organization. This is especially important for businesses that send emails to large distribution lists.

However, when you recall a message it generally informs the recipient that the email exists and highlights the fact that you want to recall it. For some, this makes it even more enticing to read the mistakenly sent email.

Plus, if you send an erroneous email and want to recall it, you’ll still need to be “quick on your feet”. You’ll only have a limited amount of time to stop the email from sending.

How to Delay Your Emails in Gmail:

  1. Select the small gear icon in the top-right corner of your Gmail screen.
  2. Hit “Settings.”
  3. Select the “General” tab and go to the box “Enable undo send.” Check the box.
  4. Use the drop-down menu to select how long you’d like to delay sending the email. You can extend the cancellation period from five to 30 seconds.
  5. “Save Changes”.

It’s important to note that this has to be done before you send an email.  In reality, you’re not really recalling the email, just delaying the sending of it. Once you’ve set this up, it’s easy to recall emails, but you must take action quickly (within 30 seconds or less of sending your email).

How to Delay Your Messages in Outlook:

Microsoft Outlook makes it possible to recall and replace emails that haven’t yet been read by the recipient.

  1. Go to “Sent Items” and click the “File” tab.
  2. Under the “Info” menu, select “Resend or Recall” and “Recall This Message”.

If the recipient is also on your Microsoft Exchange, retracting messages is easy. You can even use the “Replace” function to edit and resend the email with your update. However, if they aren’t on Microsoft Exchange, or aren’t logged in, this won’t work. Plus, even if they are on Microsoft Exchange, if they have enabled the preview panes, they may still be able to read your recalled message. You can still update your message, but they’ll receive both of them and wonder what’s going on.

This Didn’t Work. Now What?

Contact Your IT Experts.

If you send a message by accident, immediately contact your IT Professional and ask if they can go to the backend of the mail server and delete the worst part of the message. This is especially important if your message contained sensitive data.  Hopefully, they can do this before the recipient opens your email.

Contact the Recipient’s IT Department.

If these options don’t work, try contacting the recipient’s IT staff and ask them to delete it.  However, it’s not likely this will work if the recipient’s email address ends in,, or other major webmail providers, as they likely have policies against this. Otherwise, depending on the company’s IT policy, this may work. Remember to do this quickly before the recipient downloads the email from their business mail server.

Alert the Necessary People.

Think of your company first and any repercussions it may suffer as a result of your email gaffe.  First, let your boss know, follow any Standard Operating Procedures that are in place.  You may need to contact your HR, legal and PR departments as well. Don’t take any steps until you’ve told your boss and understand what to do.

Could Your Error Be Serious?  Yes. Healthcare providers and covered entities risk violating HIPAA regulations if an email containing protected health information (PHI) is sent to the wrong person. As a result, they could face fines of up to $50,000 for just one email mistake!    

Always double-check your emails before hitting “Send”.  Your first line of defense should always be you. Be sure to re-read the “To,” “CC” and “BCC” fields before you send an email. Also, check for any attachments in the body of the email and proof your message.

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