Why deleted emails aren't gone

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Like many things with Outlook, even a simple thing like deletion isn’t simple at all. Microsoft has designed Outlook to give you options to recover items deleted accidently.

Australian newspapers are leading with ‘UteGate’ – believe it or not. It started with an email supposedly sent from the Prime Ministers department, but can’t be found.

There have been developments in ‘Utegate’ since Danny wrote to us; so we’ll now deal with his question and later we’ll talk about other matters arising.

Like many things with Outlook, even a simple thing like deletion isn’t simple at all. Much depends on your setup and connection type. Microsoft has designed Outlook to give you options to recover items deleted accidently.

What happens when you delete an Outlook message?

Anything you delete from Outlook (message, appointment, contact, folder etc) is actually moved to the Deleted Items folder.

The exception is pressing Shift + Delete which will remove the selected items without moving to the Deleted Items folder. Microsoft calls this a ‘hard delete’ though, as we’ll see later it might not be that ‘hard’.

Items stay in the Deleted Items folder until removed manually or automatically (Tools | Options | Other | Empty Deleted Items folder upon exiting).

Once removed from the Deleted Items folder it may be gone for good with some exceptions:



  • A backup of the Outlook data file might have a copy of the deleted item.
  • A close and forensic examination of the Outlook data file (PST/OST) may recover fragments of a deleted item. Good luck with that.
  • Exchange Server users can recover items removed from the Deleted Items folder, see below.

Other recovery possibilities

Here are some other possibilities for finding a deleted Outlook item.

Sent Items folder

The Sent Items folder might have a copy of the Outlook item. If a message has been forwarded or resent, a contact or appointment was attached to an email that message will be in the Sent Items folder. Though the sent copy of the item might not be the most recent version.

Another Inbox

Obviously if you’ve sent an email, there should be a copy at the receivers end, to say nothing of copies if the message was forwarded to others.


Exchange Server recovery

If your copy of Outlook is connected to Exchange Server then items purged from the Deleted Items folder continue to be stored on the server. Most organizations do this with either Exchange Server directly or as part of Small Business Server.

Exchange Server administrators can retain deleted items for a number of days after removal from the users folder. The exact number of days depends on the Exchange Server administrator – there is a global setting for all mailboxes but it can also be adjusted for individual users.

For Outlook users, you can view and recover these retained items using the Tools | Recover Deleted Items menu option when connected to the mail server. A list of retained messages will appear and you have the choice of recovering messages or ‘purging’ (deleting) from the retained message store.

Items that are ‘hard deleted’ are not normally retained on the server however they can be kept if you change this registry key on the users computer. The change takes effect after you restart Outlook.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftExchangeClientOptions

 

Make a DWORD value called DumpsterAlwaysOn with a value of 1

Gotta love use of the word ‘Dumpster’!

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