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 recommendations, your choices may be restricted, so it’s important to plan ahead of time. Here are some tips to put you in the best possible position to reclaim your belongings.
Make frequent backups of 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 may download data from all of your Google applications, some of them, or just one, like Gmail.
The download formats differ based on the kind 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 applications.
Keep a note of your previous password.
If you forget your password, Google will prompt you to put in your previous password as one of the methods 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 (if you have ever changed it). Keep a note of your previous password someplace secure when you change your Google password — and it’s a good idea to change it on a frequent basis.
Using your password manager — you do have one, right? — to keep track of old passwords is a smart approach. When you establish a new password, most password managers will offer to update the current record for an app; if feasible, make a new entry and then modify the old one to say something like “Gmail – old password.”
If you don’t have a password manager (and if you’ve forgotten your password, you probably don’t), you can maintain a list of previous passwords in an encrypted file. In case anything goes wrong.
Check to see if there is any recovery information accessible.
It’s a good idea to provide 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.
It’s a good idea to offer several methods of account verification.
1. Go to your Google account page and go to the left-hand column to “Security.”
2. Scroll down to the section under “Ways we can prove it’s you.”
3. You’ll be able to check whether 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.)
4. 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.
5. Another Gmail account, an email account from a different provider, or even a relative’s or friend’s account may be used as your recovery email account. (Ascertain if the family or acquaintance is security-conscious.)
6. Click “Recovery email” under the “Ways we can prove it’s you” area (see above).
7. Click “Verify” after entering your preferred recovery email address.
8. A six-digit verification number will be sent to the email address you provided. Go to your email, copy the code, and then input it on the recovery page. (You have 24 hours to obtain another code before you have to acquire a new one.)
9. A tiny pop-up window should appear stating that your recovery email has been confirmed.
10. To aid with the recovery of your account, you may provide a confirmed recovery email.
11. Click “Recovery email” under the “Ways we can prove it’s you” area (see above).
12. In the pop-up window, click “Add Recovery Phone” and input the phone number.
13. At that phone number, Google will send you a verification code. In the pop-up window, type it in.
You may also provide a recovery phone number, and Google will contact you with a code by phone or text.
If everything else fails, Google may inquire as to when the account was established. Personally, I have no clue when I began most of my Gmail accounts; if you want to find out, the simplest method is to locate your earliest Gmails (now that you have access to your account) and save that information someplace secure. (Of course, this implies you haven’t been diligent in deleting all of your old emails; in that case, this won’t help.)
14. Go to the left-hand menu in your Gmail account, locate “All Mail,” and click it.
15. Check the upper-right corner of your screen for the amount of emails you have. (It’ll read something along the lines of “1-50 of 2,000.”) Select “Oldest” by clicking on it.
16. Your email will now be sorted from oldest to newest; if you’re like me and haven’t been particularly good at deleting email, this should help you figure out when you originally created the account.
Locating your oldest emails may assist you in recalling when you first created your account.
For individuals who are experiencing difficulty restoring their websites, Google recommends transmitting all of the information you can using your regular computer in the same place where you normally compute and using your regular browser.
Get your password back
So, what if you forget your password or are unable to access your account for any other reason? So you go to Google’s recovery website and begin answering the questions there.
Unfortunately, when I tested it out on a fake account, I discovered that my choices were very restricted. I was prompted for my most recent password, followed by a verification code from my alternative email, a verification code from my phone, and the answer to my security question (despite Google’s claim that security questions were no longer utilized). When I said that I didn’t have any of them, the last screen merely advised me to try again. I went through the entire process once again — and was told to “try again.” There was no other option available.
You may also go to the “Can’t login into your Google Account” page and pick one or more of the alternatives to see if any additional solutions are available.
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.