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One of my friends had a girlfriend with a Hotmail e-mail account.  He set up a new e-mail account and the name he selected was an exact duplicate of her name except with one letter missing.  He then sent an e-mail to another person with whom he suspected she was having an affair.  He simply sent one sentence on her behalf, “Hey Richard, my computer just crashed and I deleted all your e-mails from the past year, so can you send me them because I want to keep them?” Guess what happened?  Sure enough, what came back in the e-mail was heartbreaking electronic documentation that confirmed his suspicions that she had been unfaithful.

With instant messaging and e-mail, the game of intentional mistaken identity looms large over both the work and personal landscape.  I met a venture capitalist whose company did not have the exact web address that his company’s name would logically own, and he said that the other “Frank” at the company, who actually owned the web address was receiving tons of unsolicited business plans.  The VC’s response: “Good.  I could never read them all, anyway.”

Lesson:  When someone contacts you for the first time, always confirm it is indeed the person he or she claims to be.  And always be very careful of the reply button, because some e-mail programs make it easy to confuse “reply” with “reply all.”

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