The Cannes Film Festival, which begins today, is regarded as the most prestigious film festival in the world. But for me it is an annual reminder to use caution when disseminating information via email. For the past few years, just before the festival, a French public relations company emails me PDF catalogs of haute couture women’s dresses, shoes, purses and other accessories to pass on to one of my close friends for her perusal: actress Milla Jovovich.

Mistaken Identity – and an Unwanted View Into My Namesakes’ Secrets

While I’m flattered that someone across the pond thinks that Milla would be attending Cannes with me, the reality is that the email is intended for a music producer and longtime friend of hers who happens to share my name and evidently a very similar email address.

Though this instance is almost certainly an innocuous, yet careless, mistake, improperly addressed emails can pose a threat to personally identifiable information, trade secrets and other sensitive and confidential information. My inbox is routinely the recipient of doctor and dentist appointment reminders, banking notifications, party invitations, an Ohio middle school’s weekly announcements and other messages that, after a quick look, are not actually spam, but misdirected emails intended for another Chris Brenner.

Protecting Your Information: Dot Your I’s and Cross Your T’s

Over the years I’ve gotten to know many of my namesakes quite well. I’m a music producer who rubs elbows in the celebrity world, a graphic designer for GoPro and, most exciting, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot. That one was the most peculiar of them all.

From Purses to Fighter Pilot Training Materials

Several years ago I received an email copied to five or six people with two dozen documents attached with various file names suggesting that they were in some way related to the F/A-18. Against my better judgment, I opened the attachments and, sure enough, they were filled with study material for a fighter pilot exam. Fortunately, after some quick checking, it was clear to me that the information was not classified and was readily found across the internet. But it still serves as a reminder to be certain of your email recipient addresses before clicking the send button.

While it’s been amusing to get a glimpse into the lives of those whose name I happen to share, it is a bit troubling as well. With all of the emails I receive intended for one of them, how many emails intended for me have they received?

4 Tips to Ensuring Your Emails End up Where They Should

  1.  Add frequently emailed individuals to your address book rather than typing the address each time.
  2. Double check email addresses on smartphones, tablets and other devices with auto correct as it can often be overzealous in its “corrections.”
  3. Use the BCC field to mask recipient lists.
  4. Make sure you really want to “reply all.”

Burn After Reading

Remember, using a disclaimer at the end of an email – one that warns that a message is confidential and should be deleted if you are the unintended recipient – serves the same purpose as locks and passwords: it only keeps honest people honest. Anyone with nefarious intent can use the information that arrives in their inbox for their own gain.

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