How do I tell someone they’re entering their email address wrong?

Many websites ask you type your email address in twice for a reason: there's a high percentage of people who cannot type their email address in correctly once.

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I’m receiving email confirmations from some commercial site; some confirmations of orders, etc. From the content of one of these, I know the person’s name and date of birth as well as the fact that they live in England. All of the emails are of the “do not respond” type. I suspect that someone entered their email address incorrectly at some point and would like to inform the intended recipient of the issue so that it can be corrected, but I’m unable to find a contact for them. The last name is the same as mine, which makes it a little bit more complicated.

This is one of those very interesting, but admittedly frustrating problems that we face online almost daily. It’s something that I’ve run into with Ask Leo! and when we were running my wife’s business.

The problem is very simple. When somebody gives you their email address as contact information and they get their own email address wrong, how do you contact them to tell them so?

The bottom line is that unless they’ve given you additional information like a phone number, you can’t.

Email that goes nowhere

More often than not, a person just types in their email address incorrectly. It’s just a simple typo.

This is frustrating, particularly if the emails contain sensitive information. For example, when someone sends me a question and they enter their email wrong, my response to their question will either go to:

  • The wrong person (which is I think very similar to what you’re experiencing)
  • The wrong service
  • The wrong country
  • No one – it just bounces
  • Wherever – it’s never seen or heard from again

When that happens, I have no way of contacting them.

This is why so many websites ask you to type your email address in twice (which can be frustrating). I choose not to do that for Ask Leo! but every site is different.

Email EnvelopeWhat you can do about it

If you get additional information that identifies that person, fantastic. Contact them and let them know.

When you don’t have information, my recommendation is that you’ve done everything you can. In other words, ignore the email. You can’t do anything with it until:

  • They contact you with correct information
  • You find some piece of additional contact information either for the company or the individual.

By and large, understand that getting the wrong email is very common, and you don’t need to be concerned about it. Emails like this happen. It eventually resolves itself as people fail to get the communications that they’re expecting.

There are 9 comments:

  1. Rosie Perera Reply

    The “enter twice” thing started with passwords, because your password didn’t show up when you typed so it was easy to have a typo which you couldn’t see. You can’t just copy and paste the invisible password, you actually have to type it in again. So that would detect errors and give you a chance to fix it. But I’ve always thought the “enter your email address twice” thing was stupid. You can see what you’ve typed to proofread it (though admittedly many people won’t check). Most people know enough to copy/paste to save time entering it a second time. So it is pointless. People should learn to enter their email addresses correctly and proof them before hitting Submit. If they don’t, that’s their problem.

    • Leo Reply

      It should be their problem, but it becomes the problem of customer service organizations (for example) who can’t respond to the invalid email address and end up being blamed for it. I’m not justifying it, just saying that I see it often enough (daily, easily), and if this were some kind of business relationship with reputation and/or money on the line I can totally understand doing it. People should learn, but many do not.

  2. Billy Bob Reply

    Agree with Rosie. To add one thing, what I really hate is when javascripts do not allow me to paste in a field. And my work computer will not allow me to disable scripts or run “Noscript.” So when I’m signing up for a work-related website, I really do have to enter my email twice! Argh! Hate it!

  3. Wendy Reply

    Interesting to see I’m not the only person to contact Leo with this sort of problem recently. My situation is that someone has a similar email address to mine, but is handing out the wrong email address to people and services – and because of the way Gmail works (which I don’t have a problem with), the mistake means mail comes to me. Extremely frustrating, since I have no way of contacting this other person, and telling her friends to ask her to sort it out has gone nowhere. Clearly some people need to be protected from themselves, and the rest of us have to suffer by jumping through extra hoops as a result.

  4. Wendy Reply

    Forgot to add – thank you for the advice you sent to me, Leo. Good to know your thinking was along the same lines as my own – nice to have that confirmation before I took any action. I am happy with the results. :-)

  5. Ken B Reply

    Yes, you can see the e-mail address that you are entering. Or, at least, you can see *most* of it, since some websites use a display-width that is too narrow to see the entire text that you entered. And how many people can’t be bothered to proofread what they typed? (And even if you do, how many times have you proofread something and didn’t notice the typo?)

    However, unless you have an extremely long e-mail address, I don’t understand the problem people have with entering it twice. As the recipient of numerous “the person made a typo in the domain name when signing up” mailings, I really don’t object.

    And, as Leo notes, the mailings I get sometimes contain “sensitive” information. For example, there is a company down in the Dominican Republic with a domain name identical to ours, with the addition of an “s” as the end. (ie: “examples.com” rather than “example.com”.) I still get their monthly statements cc’ed to my inbox. (I figured out the “correct” domain when the other cc’s contained the correct version.)

    Other times, it’s from companies that not only didn’t ask you to retype your address, but didn’t even send out a confirmation e-mail. (Are you listening Dell?) Apparently, the person made the same domain-typo on numerous sites.

  6. George Jensen Reply

    I use “Autohotkey” (Leo recommended it some time ago) ! I really like it for entering stuff that you repeat often – email addresses, names and addresses, etc.

    But it only works for me in Windows XP. On my Windows 7 machine it worked half-ass for a bit and then quit altogether.

    PS: Leo, that shadow thing that I wrote about earlier just now went away; don’t know why but everything is clear now with chrome.

    • Leo Reply

      For what it’s worth I continue to use (and even rely on) AutoHotKey in both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Works fine for me.

  7. Ravi Agrawal Reply

    It happened to me when I was registering myself with a new website and got the email id typed incorrectly. Just a bit of inconvenience though and I had to fill up the forms once more and got started.

    In most cases, the person realizes his mistake and resubmits the data again, so it may not be worth worrying at all.

    Ravi.

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