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Abandoned email account addresses can be difficult to recover. It will be quite a while before they are returned to the pool of available addresses, if ever!

I had some of these free email accounts hacked, so I stopped using them. I understood before that Hotmail is deleted after 35 days of not being used and Gmail the same after 45 days. But as I tried recreating the accounts with the same names again, they were refused saying that they were already active. I tried logging in on them, but I could not as my known passwords were not valid.

In this excerpt from Answercast #76, I look at the timeframes and difficulties involved in recovering old, abandoned email accounts.

Abandoned email account addresses

So 35 and 45 days? I'm not sure where those numbers are coming from. I believe that it is much longer than that, these days.

I'm not sure of the specific numbers, but I typically recommend waiting at least, something like, three months - 90 days, if not 180 days. It's possible that it's even longer than that before email addresses for expired email accounts are added back into the pool.

What I mean is that:

  • You stop using the account.

  • At some point, Hotmail or Gmail or whomever says, "Oh, he's not logged into this account for three months. We're going to deactivate the account."

  • So, the account doesn't exist anymore.

But, there may be an additional period of time, usually several months, after the account was deactivated before the email address is released back into the public so a new account with that old email address could be created.

Recovering an abandoned account

I really think you're talking way, way, way, way more than 35 or 45 days. I honestly think that in order to recover an email address, you may be talking upwards of a year before it becomes available again.

Again, it's gonna vary from service to service. Not all of them are clear about what the time frames really are. And not all of them stay static. In other words, the numbers change from time to time as well. It may very well have been 35 or 45 days years ago. But I know that's not the case today.

Hacked email account

The other thing that comes to mind (and this is perhaps even more to the point) is that you said that these accounts have been hacked.

You may not have been logging into them, but the hacker could have. As long as the hacker keeps logging into the account, that account is, from the service provider's point of view, still active. So, it's not gonna get shut down.

In other words, all these time frames that we've been talking about don't even start because the hacker keeps the account alive by logging in - and probably sending spam or sending email or doing who knows what using your hacked email account.

So, I really think that this is too short a time period. In reality, as long as the hackers are active on the account, you'll need to look at some other way either of recovering the account directly. You may need get your password back, or abandon the idea of recovering that email address and simply moving on to a new one.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6105 - December 5, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
John Butler
December 7, 2012 8:36 AM

Here in the UK if an email account is abandoned you may get it back after about a month. If you cancelled your account you may be unable to get that address back.

Douglas Harding
December 7, 2012 10:15 AM

Could it be the 35 & 45 days, refers to unopened email being deleted from accounts? Not the accounts themselves. One account I use has an ISP provided spam filter that automatically deletes unopened mail in the spam folder after 30 days. The account remains active, just the unopened mail is deleted.

David Powell
December 8, 2012 12:32 PM

It might also be some other person who legitimately wants that email address, and asked for it at just the right time - now it's his (or hers)!

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