Accidentally sent an email to the wrong person? Here’s what to do next.

We've all sent an email to the wrong person... find out what you can do right now, and how you can prevent mistakes in the future.

'How to' guides

Firstly, don’t panic. You’re not the first (and definitely not the last) person to make this mistake. We’re going to walk you through your options on what to do right now and offer some tips on how to avoid a similar situation happening in the future.

Can I unsend an email?

Unfortunately, no. It’s not possible to “un-send” an email. However, we are able to “recall” unread emails in Outlook within our own organizations and cancel outgoing emails in Gmail. If you’ve emailed something sensitive to somebody outside your organization, your best bet is to get in touch, apologize, and request that they delete the email.

You should also contact your organization’s data security team to let them know the exact nature of the email leak. It might be embarrassing, but it’s always best to come clean about an honest mistake, rather than stay quiet and risk more problems later down the line.

If you’ve sent your email to the wrong person within your organization, read on for how to recall an email in Outlook or skip forward for Gmail.

Recalling an Outlook email

You can recall an email in outlook when the recipient and the sender both use a Microsoft Exchange account in the same organization, or if they both use Microsoft 365. Essentially, that means you can recall unread emails to people you work with.

Step 1: Open up your “Sent Items” folder

Step 2: Double-click on the misdirected email

Step 3: Click on the “Message” tab in the top-left of your navigation bar (it’s next to “File”). You’ll see a section called “Move” – click on the “More Move Actions” icon.  Click “Recall This Message” from the dropdown menu.

Step 4: You’ll get a pop-up asking if you’d like to “Delete unread copies of the message” or “Delete unread copies and replace with a new message”

Step 5: If you choose to replace with a new message, a second window will open and you’ll be able to edit your original email

Step 6: Remember to click the “Tell me if recall succeeds or fails for each recipient” option. That way you’ll be notified whether the recall worked or not for each recipient

Step 7: Select “Ok” to recall, and “Send” if you replaced with a new message

Unfortunately, this isn’t a watertight solution. If the recipient has opened the email, you won’t be able to recall it. They’ll still get the message that you wanted to delete the email, but the accidentally sent one will stay in their inbox anyway. It also won’t work if you’ve sent to a public folder or tried to recall from a mobile device.

As you can see, the options for undoing mistakes via email are limited. When it comes to misdirected email, the best method is always prevention. Skip to the final section of the blog to find out how.

Recalling a Gmail email

Frustratingly, there’s no way to recall emails within Gmail in the way you can with Outlook. The best option you have is to enable a fix that might be able to help you for next time. Gmail has a “Delay” function that gives you a 30-second window to change your mind and catch the email. That’s a maximum of 30 seconds by the way – so not long.

However, if you’ve “fat fingered” the send button and immediately noticed your mistake, this function can offer a valuable lifeline. Here’s how to set it up.

Step 1: Click the “Settings” icon (the wheel/cog) and click “See all settings”

Step 2: Under the “General” tab, you’ll see a section called “Undo send.” Click “Enable” if it isn’t selected already

Step 3: Choose your time limit (you can only choose from between 5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds)

Step 4: Hit save changes at the bottom of the page

Step 5: When you next send an email, the “Your message has been sent” box will appear with an additional undo option (a link on a yellow background)

Step 6: If you click on “Undo” within your selected time frame, the recipient will never know you sent it. But if you miss it, it’s gone!

The obvious problem with Gmail recall is that if you didn’t have the above enabled, there’s no way to get the email back. And even if you do have it enabled – if you miss hitting undo within the time limit, the chance is gone. You’ll also lose the option to undo if you navigate away from the screen.

As you can see, the options for undoing mistakes via email are limited. When it comes to misdirected email, the only real solution is prevention.

How to prevent misdirected email in the future

Misdirected email can be serious, so it’s sensible to protect both yourself and your organization from potential breaches. Firstly there’s the obvious solution – checking and double-checking all of the fields before you send. However, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. With the number of emails we send it’s simply not possible to never make another error.

You can set up send delays in both Outlook and Gmail – but that only saves you in instances where you press send too soon or immediately realise your mistake. Static rules (e.g. you can send attachments to Company A but not Company B) can also be set up, but these have their limitations. Rigid rules don’t account for the ways we actually work, and they can end up denting productivity. The only way to truly protect yourself from misdirected email is through human layer security.

Human layer security, such as Egress Intelligent Email Security, uses machine learning to adapt to your behaviour. This means it’s content-driven, protecting you from real life mistakes (like the one that may have brought you to this article!). It works seamlessly and in real time, keeping you safe without impacting your productivity.

Learn more about how human layer security protects you from misdirected email. Or if you’re ready to start a free (no strings attached) trial, ask your IT team to get in touch for a demo.