Why is my mom's Gmail account constantly CAPTCHA'ing her?
April 28, 2009 7:18 PM   Subscribe

My mom's Gmail account keeps throwing up the CAPTCHA at login, blocking her mail clients. Why?

We use Google Apps for IMAP access to a family domain and it's worked great for over a year. But within the last month, my mom's Mac Mail (10.5.6, updates current) and iPhone (1st gen) have been unable to access her account with IMAP. When we troubleshoot (over the phone), it appears that Google keeps putting up a CAPTCHA for her web login, and so her IMAP clients can't connect.

This keeps happening, but only to my mom's account. We will "fix" it for a day or two but then the CAPTCHA goes back up. We can get her mail clients working so I know we have the right settings, but the fix seems to "expire."

What could be causing this? Is someone banging away at her email account, and Google's throwing up the CAPTCHA in self-defense? Is there a benign explanation for this, or should I worry that someone's trying to get into her mail?

She's pretty good about avoiding viruses and suspicious stuff -- she came close to logging into a bank phishing site a few years ago and learned her lesson -- but I can't guarantee she hasn't done something dumb. She is on a Mac (and always has been) and I don't think she's used a PC to access email in years. I know Macs aren't virus-free but I'm having a hard time connecting this Gmail behavior to her computer.

What's going on? Anyone heard of this happening? What should I do?

Thanks. I apologize in advance if I only have partial info here -- I'm working on this with her over the phone and you know how it is with parents and remote tech support.
posted by woot to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Best answer: i have zero backing for it - but is her password too simple? i had a too simple password on one of my junk mail gmail accounts and every time i logged in - captcha - without fail. my super complex passwords i don't have near the problem.
posted by nadawi at 7:20 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: nadawi, that is a thought. She used to have a really simple one, but during the most recent round of tech support, we added some digits to it to make it a mix of letters and numbers. It's not what I would consider a particularly strong one, but it's not as bad as it was for, oh, a decade. (And Gmail worked fine with the "weak" password for a year....)

The CAPTCHA has recurred with the new "better" password, too. Does Gmail have hard and fast password complexity requirements? Are lower-case letters (a word) and two numbers okay?
posted by woot at 7:29 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: This previous AskMe suggests that Google does this with repeated bad logins from one IP address. I assume your mom always uses the same computer? Maybe someone on the same IP is acting badly.

I suppose you could test this theory if she would let you try to log in as her on your end, but I don't know where that gets you.
posted by exogenous at 7:44 PM on April 28, 2009

Is it possible that the various IMAP clients are set up with the wrong password saved? That could be what's triggering the captcha if the client tries to access it too many times with the wrong password.
posted by polexa at 7:57 PM on April 28, 2009

Perhaps her mail program (or some other one running in the background) has the old, wrong password and keeps trying unsuccessfully every five minutes.
posted by alexei at 7:57 PM on April 28, 2009

If you clear all cookies and cache, does it still happen? I know, a PAIN because she has stored her login info all over. But I think it might help.
posted by barnone at 8:04 PM on April 28, 2009

Could it be this thing, where you've got to go to https://www.google.com/accounts/DisplayUnlockCaptcha to "unlock the captcha"?
posted by thejoshu at 9:02 PM on April 28, 2009

Have her practice typing the password a bunch. Clear cache & cookies, as it seems to me that Google stores the bad login count locally, though I have no documentation.
posted by theora55 at 10:26 AM on April 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of these suggestions.

exogenous, thanks for pointing me to the previous AskMe. I did see that but didn't read down far enough to see the explanation about static IPs. And thejoshu, that's exactly what is happening. Logging in to the webmail client to clear the CAPTCHA solves the problem, but until then, her clients are blocked.

polexa and alexei, I do suspect that one of her clients is querying Gmail -- I just can't figure out which one. She only has two -- her laptop and her iPhone. I have walked her through changing the settings on both of them. What's got me puzzled is that the problem recurs -- it's as if the proper settings are reverting back to the bad ones. I don't think it's dotMac sync (she didn't have it turned on).

barnone and theora55, I'll have her clear cache and cookies as you suggest.

Thanks -- I'll try these things and see what happens.
posted by woot at 3:26 AM on April 30, 2009

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