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Does your auto-reply share TMI?

If it discloses where you'll be and your personal cell phone number, that's too much information.

By Karen Datko Jan 20, 2010 1:25PM

This post comes from Linsey Knerl at partner blog Wise Bread.


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 e-mail reply so people don’t wonder why you haven’t responded 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 e-mails -- an e-mail address and possibly a first name will get the job done. What is surprising (and a bit disturbing) is that many people will willingly volunteer very personal tidbits of information to me, a stranger, via their e-mail auto-replies.

My company’s newsletter goes out, and 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.


It’s true that most companies don’t read the auto-replies 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 more than 10 years (and a freebie hunter), I know that I’ve probably been on as many as 1,000 lists at any one time. I use my personal e-mail 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:

  • The next time you get any e-mail to your work e-mail that is part of a mailing list, have the e-mail address it's sent to changed to a personal e-mail. Your workplace usually has a policy on using work e-mail for personal use, anyway, so this may help you out in the long run if it ever comes up.
  • Use discretion when sending out an auto-reply. This is good practice, not just for mailing lists, but for any e-mail.

It’s very easy for someone to get your work e-mail, either by calling the receptionist at your company, or searching online to find the domain of your e-mail server (, for example). If someone can figure out how to send an e-mail by guessing (common addresses are FirstName.LastName @ or FirstInitial.LastName @, they can send you an e-mail, 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 3 p.m. today and that Sally in accounting will handle your calls. But just in case, it’s always good to keep these things to yourself.


Related reading at Wise Bread:



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