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7 How to permanently delete a problem email in Microsoft Outlook

Depending on how well your spam catcher of choice works, you may still see the occasional shifty-looking email in your Microsoft Outlook inbox – you know, something with a weird subject line, from a name you don’t recognize, etc.

But before you open it up or even click on it, be warned: It may be carrying dangerous cargo, and not always in the form of an attachment.

I’ll be the first to tell you: I’m no expert on spam and email security, so I can’t give you a rundown of all the dangers in this area.  But when I see something in my own inbox that looks suspicious, I err on the side of caution by permanently deleting it.

I say “permanently” because, if you simply hit the Delete key in Outlook, that email isn’t really deleted.  All Outlook’s done at that point is move it from your Inbox (or whatever subfolder it’s in) to the Deleted Items folder.  And, depending on your Outlook settings, it may stay there a while, lurking and still posing a potential security threat.

(I also say “permanently” because, as that word implies, once it’s gone, there is no way for you to retrieve it within Outlook, so don’t do this lightly.  This feature does not, however, provide a way to circumvent any sort of forensic recovery of individual emails from your account in the event of a lawsuit, investigation, etc.  In other words, if you’re trying to do the electronic version of shredding documents, this trick won’t help you.  But that’s a whole other discussion.)

Safely (and permanently) deleting email

Once you decide that something in your Inbox needs to be gone, here’s how you skip over the Deleted Items folder entirely:

  • First, before you even single-click on the offending email, be sure you’ve turned off AutoPreview (the feature that allows you to see the first couple of lines directly beneath each message’s header information) and the Preview Pane (the feature that shows a window at the bottom or side of your Inbox to allow you to scroll through the message without opening it).  Even a preview of the email, without actually opening it in a new window, may trigger malware that’s included with the email.  Look for these buttons on your toolbar:
Outlook Auto Preview button

Auto Preview

Outlook Preview Pane button

Preview Pane

  • Make sure both buttons are “de-selected” and you cannot see any of the actual message content in your Inbox.  (You should still be able to see the From, Date, etc. information.)
  • Once you’re turned off any preview features, then you can safely select the message with a single click. Once the message is selected, hold down the SHIFT key and press DELETE.  That’s Shift-Delete, simultaneously, to permanently delete the message.  (You may be asked to confirm that you want to permanently delete the message.)

That’s it!  That message is outtahere!