Gmail lockout
May 16, 2009 7:19 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: trying to solve a Gmail lockout issue.

I have a Gmail acct but I haven't used their site/interface much myself, and I don't see how I can directly help her solve this or troubleshoot.

She's extremely upset because her acct contains only-copies of several years of her email (!). (To me this is the biggest issue with online services, for most users -- no instinct to back up data offline if it's perceived as being safely stored by a big company.)

It sounds like a third party discovered her password and then changed the password, the security question, and possibly the address book.

Steps were:
1) Her usual password didn't work for login.
2) After a requested wait period (no access attempts for 24 hrs), she came back and answered her security question, which she's 100% certain she answered correctly; no luck.
3) Next step was a "report" in which she was asked to name some email addresses in her address book and some labels she uses, which she did correctly.
4) She heard back fast: "We've completed our investigation and cannot return your account at this time. We were unable to verify that you own this account based on the information you provided."
5) She completed another report, but she had no further info to submit beyond what she'd already supplied in the first report, and she hasn't heard back.

Given Gmail's scale, I'm not surprised this process needs to be automated, but there must be ways to escalate or contact a human about it, right?
posted by kalapierson to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is indeed a way to contact a human—if, and only if, you happen to be a paying customer of Google Apps Premier Edition, the $50-a-year premium service Google offers. If that's the case, then you'd still need your customer PIN and support PIN; and if you had those things, you'd have the printable sheet that has the phone number on it. To get through to customer service, you're supposed to need those PINs; but your friend is free to try the toll-free numbers here (search for Jay Cuthrell, he's the commenter that has this info):

* System critical issue support line (Local): 1-800-598-3901
* System critical issue support line (Global): 1-650-253-7875

Unfortunately, given that you haven't mentioned it, I imagine your friend doesn't have Premier Edition. In which case... this might be tough. Your friend has probably already seen the Official Google Blog's Article "What to do if you can’t access your Webmail;" it describes pretty much the steps she's gone through. It's mentioned in this New York Times article from a few months back, which is interesting and informative but probably doesn't offer any really fantastic solutions.

The only advice I can find online is: keep on their asses. It wouldn't hurt to call that number.

And I know that a person that makes this mistake gets lectured over and over and over again, but it's trivially easy to set gmail up to forward all your emails to another account to back everything up. It's a very, very good idea.
posted by koeselitz at 10:53 PM on May 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you. Yeah, it looks like Google won't give her any human support and they have nothing for her except these automated denials, which is terrible. My generation is expected to trust the cloud and throw everything online, but policies like this make me glad for my curmudgeonly offline ways...

Both the Times article and that blog post are vague about how the users they mention eventually got access again.

Does anybody know of any specifics online -- any description by a non-paying user of what they did to regain access to a Google account?
posted by kalapierson at 11:28 PM on May 16, 2009

I think... you need to know someone on the inside... If you can get ahold of a google employee that actually works on gmail.. they'll prolly be able to do something..?
posted by mhh5 at 1:02 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If mhh5 is correct, and it makes sense that even if it's not the only way, it's would definitely help to get ahold of a Gmail pro, maybe look around on the Gmail blog to find a name? Not sure of Google's naming conventions for e-mail addresses, but you can probably try a few variations and get someone.

It may be worth a shot, anyway...
posted by altcountryman at 7:48 AM on May 17, 2009

I know you are hoping to find a free solution, but $50 sounds like a bargain to restore years of email. Pay that money, talk to a human.
posted by reeddavid at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2009

reeddavid: I know you are hoping to find a free solution, but $50 sounds like a bargain to restore years of email. Pay that money, talk to a human.

Actually, reeddavid, I believe you've misunderstood: if you started your account as a Premium account, they'll give you assistance on it. You can't add the Premium service if you don't have the password to your account. If the poster's friend got a premium account and called them now, they'd say, "well, it's probably lost. Sorry."

... or maybe not. That's how I'd read it--maybe it's worth it to try. Who knows.

posted by koeselitz at 7:32 PM on May 17, 2009

This is a ">pretty common tale.

I guess for the second instance of the account recovery process, I would be looking for anything at all that I had indicating my relationship with the account. For example, old mail between myself and the Gmail account, timestamps and IP addresses, and even materials indicating "send it to my Gmail at ...", preferably with some age to them.

Basically you're looking for anything that's going to match up with something sitting in that week-ago backup that the technician is going to glance at.
posted by dhartung at 1:07 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Success: third report submission worked, with just a little additional data (I forwarded her the first email she'd sent to me from that acct, so she had its start date, and that combined with the data she'd already given them was apparently enough).

I'll certainly try to evangelize for SOME full auto backup approach like koselitz suggests, but at least she is now manually backing up the contents of her "most significant" emails...

So the lesson is: if you don't have any offline records to mine for help as dhartung suggests, collect as much data as you can from other people you've corresponded with.
posted by kalapierson at 10:04 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

That's awesome, kalapierson! It's good to hear that the process worked.

For posterity, here are a few options that I find really handy for backing up passwords and accounts:

  • I back up all of my passwords using a great little program called keepass. It's nice—I use a lot of passwords, and I know I'll forget at least every sixth or seventh I create. This way, I have all of them in a securely-encrypted file where I can reach them.

  • As I said above, I have my account set to automatically forward my emails to another backup account; that means that I always have a spare copy of every email I've received. The other benefit of backing up: in case of a lockout like this one, it's much easier to prove that I am who I say I am.

  • Another way to back up, one which is even more stable and which is more comfortable for some people, especially people who are used to using traditional email programs: it's possible (and not even very difficult) to set up Gmail to work through Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, so that every email is downloaded to your hard drive every time you log on. I like the interface of Gmail, but having everything on your computer can be very useful, and it makes backing up (as well as saving, archiving, and manipulating emails) much, much easier.

  • posted by koeselitz at 9:53 AM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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