What Happens When Someone Takes Over Your Email Account?!

Recently I traveled for almost 3 weeks to the US (from our home in South Africa) to see family and friends. During my trip, I figured that I had used 7 different computers to check email and communicate with my husband back home. Somewhere along the way, a virus or spyware or something like that snagged my password to my gmail account. Two days after I got back home, I could not access my account. This struck panic in my heart because that is my main email account that I use for everything – facebook, twitter, etc. – plus all the google products I use – picasa, blogger, blog reader, ad sense, calendar, etc.

So I remained calm and went through the steps that gmail has to restore your password. It’s a long questionnaire that I didn’t know the answers to most. I quickly breezed through it thinking it was just a formality. Imagine my surprise when a day later I received an email from gmail saying they could not restore my account because I did not have adequate proof that I was who I said I was.

It’s hard to prove you are someone online. It’s not like you can flash a passport or other form of picture id.

So after 4 more attempts at the questionnaire – and some digging to find the answers to questions I didn’t know – my email account was restored. But it left me with a new caution about life online that I’d love to share with you. Here are some of my tips – and ones I found while searching online for help.

1. Don’t use the same email for EVERYTHING! I have five different emails that come to my mailbox on my mac, but I was used to using my gmail for everything so I wouldn’t forget. It’s worth the effort to use different emails to log in to the different places. Make a physical list somewhere if you have to – which I do – and keep it in a safe place.

2. Don’t use the same password for EVERYTHING! This is probably a no-brainer but I was totally guilty of it! I’m a mom, I’m busy, I have limited brain space and passwords are not on my priority list, so why not use the same one everywhere, was my reasoning. Now I do the same as with number 1 – physical list.

3. If you have a gmail account, take time to write out the answers to these questions. I don’t know if it works the same with hotmail or any other online email, but I would imagine it might. These are the answers to the questions asked on the gmail questionnaire: (This list came from Digital Inspiration blog.)

  • The month and year when your created your Gmail / Google Account. You can look at the last page of your Gmail Inbox (or go to Sent Items) to get an approximate idea of the date when you created the account.
  • If you created a Gmail account by invitation, write the email address of the person who first sent you that invite for Gmail.
  • The email addresses of your most frequently emailed contacts (the top 5).
  • The names of any custom labels that you may have created in your Gmail account.
  • The day/month/year when you started using various other Google services (like AdSense, Orkut, Blogger, etc.) that are associated with the Google account that you are trying to recover. If you’re not certain about some of the dates, provide your closest estimate. I looked at the first date of photos I had uploaded to picasa and my first post in blogger.

4. Read privacy settings on social networking sites like facebook and twitter. Please be extra careful and diligent if you have pre-teens or teenagers online. Take time with them to read through those settings and choose the ones you are most comfortable with.

I just want to encourage everyone to be careful and take precautions. I’m not really sure what these people wanted with my account. The only activity I could find was some crazy gibberish on one of my old blogs. Which is weird, because they are free anyway.

I’m sure there are lots of more tips and I’d love to hear some of yours in the comment section.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “What Happens When Someone Takes Over Your Email Account?!

  1. hi there! good info. about that– i totally use the same password for my info. too!

    Anyway, this is Laura and I found you via Missionary Moms blogroll. I am in Thailand right now, and it is encouraging to see other women excited about globally loving Jesus. Glad to have “found” you-in Africa!

  2. Hi! Things are going again at Missionary Moms! Stop on by! It would be great to see you! =)

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