It can be quite annoying and upsetting to lose access to your Google / Gmail account. During my research for this piece, I came across multiple tales of people who had been locked out of their accounts after forgetting their passwords – and a couple who had still been unable to log in weeks later. If you’ve been locked out of your Google account — either because you forgot your password or because someone broke into your account and changed it — Google provides a list of options to attempt. They do work on occasion.
Beyond Google’s suggestions, your alternatives may be restricted, so it’s wise to plan ahead of time. Here are some tips to put you in the best possible position to reclaim your belongings.
Regularly Backup Your Account
If you have a recent backup of your data, it will be less of a blow — and less likely to raise your blood pressure — if you lose access to your account (knock on wood). Takeout is a Google service that allows you to download your data. You can download data from all of your Google apps, some of them, or just one, like Gmail.
The download formats differ based on the type of data. Your email will be downloaded in MBOX format, which may then be transferred to another Gmail account or most other email services or apps.
Record Your Previous Password.
If you forget your password, Google will ask you to fill in your previous password as one of the options to verify your identity. It may be difficult (or impossible) to remember your previous password if it has been a long time since you changed it (assuming you have ever changed it). Keep a record of your old password somewhere secure when you change your Google password — and it’s a good idea to change it on a regular basis. keep track of old passwords is an excellent idea. When you establish a new password, most password managers will offer to update the existing record for an app; if possible, create a new entry and then change the old one to say something like “Gmail – old password.”
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If you don’t have a password manager (and if you’ve forgotten your password, you probably don’t), you can store a list of old passwords in an encrypted file. In case anything goes wrong.
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Check To See If There Is Any Recovery Information Available.
It’s a good idea to give Google as much recovery information as you are comfortable with ahead of time so that you have options if you ever need to verify your identity.
- Go to your Google account page and select “Security” from the left-hand menu.
- Scroll down to the section titled “Ways we can confirm it’s you.”
- You’ll be able to check if you’ve registered a recovery phone number or an email address.
Note: if you answered a security question in the past, it will appear in the listing as well; however, if you click on it, you will be informed that Google no longer accepts security questions.
It’s a good idea to fill in at least one of these if you don’t have any already. Enter your information if you wish to be extra cautious. Here’s how to do it.
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Get Your Password Back
So, what if you forget your password or are unable to access your account for some other reason? So you go to Google’s recovery website and begin answering the questions there.
Unfortunately, when I tried it out on a fake account, I discovered that my options were very limited. I was prompted for my most recent password, followed by a verification code from my secondary email, a verification code from my phone, and the answer to my security question (despite Google’s claim that security questions were no longer needed). When I stated that I didn’t have any of them, the final screen merely told me to try again. “Try again,” I was told as I went through the whole rigmarole again. There was no other option available.
You can also go to the “Can’t sign into your Google Account” page and select one or more of the alternatives to see if any other solutions are available. However, even if you can provide the information that Google’s bots require, it may not be sufficient. Ron Miller, a tech journalist, was locked out of his Google account in 2017 and wrote an essay about his ordeal.
So, what are your options? If you truly want to keep your emails — and other Google data — accessible, make sure you have as many backup options as possible, and don’t forget to back it all up just in case. Otherwise, after exhausting all other options, you may need to create a new account, as Google offers at the bottom of its “Tips to finish account recovery processes” page.
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