Q. I forgot to the password to my Gmail account and also no longer have the “recovery email” account I specified when I created the account. How can I get back into my Gmail?
A. Everybody forgets passwords, but Gmail’s can be easier to misplace mentally because the site doesn’t nag you for your password every day—if Google sees you connecting from the same computer and location as before, it will assume it’s still you.
The usual password-reset method has Google sending a message to the backup email address you designated when you set up your account. But what if that second “recovery” mail account no longer exists?
Freelance journalist Jesse Emspak had to deal with that issue recently. He forgot the password he’d just changed on his Gmail, then realized his recovery address was a Verizon account he’d closed at least four years ago.
More from Rob Pegoraro:
Three business days later, Google restored his access, allowing him to reset the password and provide a new recovery e-mail address.
This issue is likely to affect many more users as Verizon continues its campaign to get its Internet subscribers to move their Verizon email accounts to the mail system of its subsidiary AOL (which will preserve the original @verizon.net addresses) or see those accounts deleted.
To make sure your Gmail account isn’t relying on a dead or dying email address, visit https://myaccount.google.com/security and scroll down to “Account recovery options.”
While you’re on that page, now would be an excellent time to enable two security options you may have neglected before.
Adding your mobile phone number will provide another way to recover your account if you forget the password. No, Google won’t spam you: I don’t think I’ve received a single text message from the company since enabling that option years ago.
And setting up two-step verification will stop the theft of your password from resulting in the loss of your account. Anytime Google sees an unusual login, it will ask you to confirm that with a code texted to your phone or generated (even if your phone has no signal) by its free Authenticator app.
You can make one other important security upgrade by using a password manager like Dashlane or LastPass (both free) to save your passwords. These services store your passwords in tightly-encrypted form, and their browser extensions will fill them in for you–and unlike people, they can’t be spoofed by phishing sites that look like the real thing but exist at a different address.
If you really don’t want to hand over your Gmail password to a third party, you should still write it down somewhere so you don’t get stuck later on. But keep that piece of paper in your wallet or in your home, both of which you already know to keep safe–not on a Post-It note stuck to your computer at work.