What Is Your Auto-Reply Email Telling People About You?

by Linsey Knerl on 17 January 2010 4 comments
Photo: mollybob

It’s a common practice: You leave the office for any amount of time (a week, an hour, etc.) and you set up a nice little out-of-office email reply so people don’t wonder why you haven’t replied back in a timely fashion. You think you’re being proactive, even professional. But could you be risking your personal information and possibly even your safety?

How Companies (and others) Get Your Info

I’ve managed several newsletter subscriptions for companies (including my own) over the years. For the most part, I’ve never required that people give me much of their own information to sign up and receive the emails — an email address and possibly a first name will get the job done. What is surprising (and a bit disturbing), however, is that many people will willingly volunteer very personal tidbits of information to me, a stranger, via their email auto-replies.

My company’s newsletter goes out…your full name, address, company name, work number, cell phone number, and your schedule for the next week (as well as names of the co-workers who will be handling your job while you’re gone) come back. Scared? You might want to listen up.

Most companies don’t read the auto-replies that they get from their mailing list subscribers. In fact, many times you can’t automatically reply to mailings from companies because they come from some sort of auto-responder, and you may find that you just get an error message in return.

However, are you aware of how many mailing lists you may be on? As an avid sweepstaker for over 10 years (and a freebie hunter), I know that I’ve probably been on as many as a thousand lists at any one time. I use my personal email account (one that’s specifically set up for these types of communications) and I NEVER use an auto-reply. Ever.

What Should You Do?

What if you have already signed up for newsletters at work and you have to use an auto-reply? There are two things you can do:

1. The next time you get any email to your work email that is part of a mailing list, have the email address changed to a personal email. Your work usually has a policy on using work email for personal use, anyway, so this may help you out in the long run if it ever comes up.

OR

2. Use discretion when sending out an auto-reply.< This is good practice, not just for mailing lists, but for any email. It’s very easy for someone to get your work email, either by calling the receptionist at your company, or Googling to find the domain of your email server (@yourcompany.com, for example). If someone can figure out how to send an email by guessing (common addresses are FirstName.LastName@company.com or FirstInitial.LastName@company.com), they can send you an email, and ultimately get an auto-reply when you leave the office. Avoid giving out any more info than you need in an auto-reply, and under no circumstances should you give out personal info (like your home number, cell number that’s not work-related, or where you will be going). This is an easy way to give out too much info to a scammer, stalker, or other evil-doer who may be trying to find out more about you or steal your identity.

For the majority of companies and mailers out there, we aren’t interested that you’ll be visiting the podiatrist at 3pm today and that Sally in accounting will handle your calls. But just in case, it’s always good to keep these things to yourself.

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Guest's picture
Sara

I want to point something else about auto-replies. I work for an ISP and we've seen cases where someone's domain is forged in spam campaigns. Mail servers who don't recognize the address the mail is going to (after already accepting it at the server level) often send a bounce. Problem is, the bounce is going to the legitimate owner of the domain, NOT the spammer, and it's bad practice, called an unsolicited bounce.

Two things can happen when you auto-reply to spam:
1. You send an unsolicited message to the owner of the forged address. So YOU have now spammed THEM!
2. Or, you let spammers know your address is legitimate, hence keeping you on future mailing lists.

Auto-responders are SPAM. There will come a time in the near future where you will be blacklisted for the offense.

Guest's picture

Great post.

You could also simply not use the auto reply feature.

I've been "out-of-pocket" as many times as most people, and I've never used it in my life.

I usually find at least a few seconds during my vacation, or wherever I am at to at least briefly check my email and to respond to anything that's urgent.

That has always worked for me.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I think most people who work with me frequently almost always know where to find me.  (They can text or leave a message.)  The others? Well.. they can wait until I decide to get back to them :)  Having a little freedom is a good thing.

I appreciate the comments!

Linsey Knerl

Financial Samurai's picture

It's huge bc/ i have a team i can depend on to cover for me. I recognize the risks of spammers, but my company filters spammers out aggressively.

Helpful to keep things low key and translucent though. Thnx Linsey!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"