How to Respond to Misdirected E-mail

Last Updated Dec 17, 2009 11:29 PM EST

When I was a kid, my phone number was only a couple of digits away from the local pizzeria, and we got a lot of calls for extra-large cheese. Most of the time, we told the caller they had the wrong number, but occasionally -- generally when my parents weren't home -- I'd take the order and tell them to expect delivery in 30 - 45 minutes.

These days, misdirected e-mail is a lot like those wrong numbers. When you get an e-mail -- at work or at home -- that wasn't meant for you, what should you do?


The New York Times recently pondered this question in its Gadgetwise blog, and I agree with the recommendation.

Bottom line: If the message appears life threatening or otherwise very important, then you have a moral responsibility to reply back and try to get the e-mail where it was originally headed. If the message is not life-or-death, you can safely ignore it. That approach means you don't punish people in need, but otherwise you let Natural Selection do its thing on people who can't be bothered to check e-mail addresses.

Have you ever helped a critical e-mail get to its intended destination? Do you get deluged with e-mail for a similarly spelled address? Tell us your e-mail war stories in the comments.

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