Causes of failure on a free email account
December 16, 2009 1:04 PM   Subscribe

When a free email account fails, what are the possible causes?

About three weeks ago, I awoke to find that I could no longer log into my gmail account. This had also happened three months earlier, after four years of no problems with gmail. When I went through the password reclamation process, I would enter my email address, complete the captcha that appeared in response to the email address, and then be told that the address wasn't registered. On the previous occasion I was able to have the account restored through a secondary hotmail address that was used when I established the account. However, this time I found that I was also unable to log into hotmail for similar reasons. Having two email accounts through different providers disappear simultaneously made me worry that someone had gained access and was messing with my settings, but I didn't know who would bother doing that. Without the hotmail address, I was unable to answer enough questions about the account to satisfy gmail sufficiently that they would return it to me again. I lost the account. People have told me that mail sent to the old addresses bounces back with notice of permanent failure on that address. This is a relief, because I know people won't be sending letters to me into the void and expecting replies. It is also assurance that someone else hasn't accessed my account. While I am told that gmail no longer recognizes the address, the address is said to be not available when I try to reregister it.

In ten years I have lost one gmail account and two hotmail accounts when they failed to recognize passwords that I'm certain are the ones I've been using all along (yes, I checked the capslock). I'm unable to reestablish the accounts through whatever password reclamation process they have. Which has left me wondering, what could be possibly going wrong when these things happen. Hardware failure on whatever box my account is stored? Some sort of database corruption? Some response to peculiar activity on it, perhaps outsiders trying to access it, for example? You get what you pay for, and I was never that surprised to hear of emails to a hotmail address that never reached me or to see a couple years of stored email suddenly disappear, but I had a little more faith in Google. With Documents and other services, a person could be storing a lot of information on a gmail account. And losing an email address means losing contact with people I stayed in occasional touch with, because I can't remember their addresses to notify them of the change.
posted by TimTypeZed to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1) Are you using these accounts to send spam, or high-volume emails that look like spam? Perhaps the provider is shutting down accounts that look like part of a spam network.

2) Who might have access to your computer, your passwords etc? Could a housemate be doing this intentionally? Are you leaving the accounts logged in at the library when you leave, allowing someone else to get in and change your passwords? Do you have a virus on your PC that is stealing your passwords?
posted by chrisamiller at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2009

Response by poster: 1) Nope. Standard usage. Emails from my mom asking what I'm doing these days and notices of activity from various websites that I frequent.

2) No other person has access to my computer. Since the accounts have become as unreachable to senders as they have been to me, I don't think it's a password problem, unless it was accessed by someone using it for your first reason, to send high-volume spam, and then shut down for that reason.
posted by TimTypeZed at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2009

Hotmail used to delete e-mail accounts that hadn't been logged into for a few weeks.
posted by archagon at 3:51 PM on December 16, 2009

I've used my email addresses for 10 years and have not even heard of anyone losing their email account like that. Can you register a new account and try to send an email to your now non-existant gmail address and see what happens?

Maybe you pissed off someone and that person has been trying to hack into your email accounts and disable/deactivate/remove them? Just a guess.
posted by jstarlee at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2009

I haven't lost an email account and one of my free ones is 11 years old (thanks Yahoo!). In any case, maybe you should have two "primary" accounts with the opposite email address listed as a back up in your .sig.

For important emails, forward to the other email account and make a filter for it to end up in a backup folder.
posted by codswallop at 4:46 PM on December 16, 2009

I've never heard of Gmail accounts getting "lost," but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course. However I can tell you that I used to work for a hosting company that provided free email accounts.

One of my jobs during slow shifts was to cruise through our Admin email account, looking for spam complaints. When I found one, I deleted the account. No records of this were really kept, so if you were to contact us the next day, you'd probably get a baffled shrug from the tech on the other end of the line.

Personally, I knew the difference between "This email address is sending spam" and "I received spam with this email address on the From line." The "From" address is frequently forged, and this can lead to a lot of trouble for whichever poor sap's email address ended up there.

However, other techs were not as dutiful as I was. The mere word "spam" plus your email address could get your account deleted.

I can't imagine that The Great And All Powerful Google, What Has Our Best Interests At Heart And Loves Us Unconditionally would run a system as shoddy as that one. But hey, it's possible.
posted by ErikaB at 7:56 PM on December 16, 2009

No answer but I empathize. This exact thing happened to my dad on gmail. Google has been of no help and it's been quite infuriating trying to find out what happened.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 12:23 PM on December 17, 2009

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