Trouble could be just one click away.
That's all it takes to send a confidential e-mail to the wrong person or forward a joke that should have been deleted.
E-mail, which caters to the need for instant, informal communication, presents dangers for those very same reasons. People often send e-mail messages without stopping to think.
Bob Adams, former campaign treasurer for Gov. Bill Owens, found that out the hard way Tuesday when an e-mail joke he forwarded cost him his position.
The joke, which ridiculed illegal immigrants, made its way to a newspaper reporter. Adams quickly resigned from the voluntary position after being questioned about the e-mail.
"The old rule that you never send anything by letter that you don't want to see in the newspaper also applies to e-mail messages," said Virginia Shea, author of "Netiquette," a book about proper online behavior. "Once you send it, you can't control where it will go."
E-mail faux pas crop up most in the workplace.
Interoffice lovers accidentally send a heated message to the company mail group. Chatty criticism of fellow workers is mistakenly sent to them. A salesperson hits the wrong button and forwards an unflattering message to a client.
"Read everything twice before you hit the send button and double check your "To" line and your "CC" line," Shea said.
Errant e-mails have become such a part of work and life that it is now part of popular culture. Just this week, the WB network's "Dawson's Creek" fashioned an entire episode around a character accidentally sending a love letter via e-mail to the entire college campus.
"People have to slow down and remember that anything that they put in an e-mail message can and will come back to haunt them," said Kim Komando, a Phoenix-based technology columnist and talk radio-show host. "It's really just common sense. If you wouldn't say it in front of someone at the water cooler, then you better not put it in writing."
Employees not only risk embarrassing themselves, they can lose their jobs if they send or forward offensive e-mails.
Companies have instituted tough policies against viewing pornographic websites at work and sending explicit e-mails. And many have gone a step further, monitoring employees' online activity.
"Your company has the right to everything on your hard drive, and everything you send and receive," Shea said.
In recent years, companies ranging from The New York Times Co. to Dow Chemical have fired dozens of employees for violating their e-mail policies.
Most people have a story about a friend or colleague who made an e-mail gaffe, or a message they received that wasn't intended for them.
But few will divulge, on the record, a truly embarrassing e-mail episode that they caused.
"I've probably committed every e-mail error in the book," said Denver travel agent David Rojahn, who once sent a reporter 400 copies of the same e-mail by mistake.
But has Rojahn ever humiliated himself through an e-mail mishap? Not that he can recall.
Thom Nulty, president of Navigant International, the second-largest travel-management company behind American Express, said he once sent a message to 5,000 people that was intended for a colleague. He heard back from about 200 confused and slightly irritated recipients.
``Thank goodness it wasn't something highly confidential or of a personal nature," he said. ``I was talking on the phone while typing on the computer and accidentally hit the global button. Multi-tasking got me in trouble."