Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

If you have lost your Hotmail password, it's impossible for me to get it back for you. However, there are measures you can take to avoid this situation

Boy, do I get this question a lot. Several times a day, in fact. And it's almost always in one of the following forms:

  • Someone has hacked my id and I want it back.
  • I need my password someone hacked on to it.
  • I tried to log on to instant messaging but I can't remember my password or my secret question.
  • Someone reset my screen name password.
  • I can't log into my own email account. Please help me recover my password.

And it's almost always in regard to a free email or instant messaging account.

Usually these questions are accompanied with dire pleas because all their contact information is in the account, or there's absolutely critical email that they can't get to, or some other life, career, or relationship-threatening situation.

I get them over and over again, many times, every day.

There's usually nothing anyone can do to help, but let's walk through the options you do have and how you can prevent the problem in the first place.

I've written about similar situations before in " Someone has stolen my email account. What can I do to get it back?" I'll reiterate some of the points I made there.

One of the first things I recommend is to call your ISP customer support immediately. Unfortunately that's not an option for free accounts, because as I've written about elsewhere, there's almost no customer support available for free accounts. You're on your own.

Try to reset your password. Usually that's done by answering a "secret question". As you can tell by the examples, by the time people come here, it's often because they've forgotten the answer to their secret question. If you're on a free email service and there's no customer support, you're pretty much screwed at this point.

Let me be extra clear on that point:

If you're using a free email service such as Hotmail, and you forget or lose both your password and the answer to your secret question, you are screwed. There is no customer support to help you, and I certainly have no way of helping you.

"There's usually nothing anyone can do to help... "

If you are paying for the account you're having problems with, you should, as I said, immediately contact customer support for that service. If you're paying for your account and there's no customer support, move your account elsewhere.

Before you abandon your account: do look to see if others are having problems logging in. For example, the recent upgrade to MSN Messenger has caused a lot of people problems. Most often these problems are temporary, and resolve themselves after a while. But once again, with the free services, you're getting what you paid for, and there may be no official communication relating to service problems.

So how do you prevent this from happening in the future?

  • Don't use free email accounts for anything important. It's not worth it. If your free email account and all the information in it went away tomorrow, would that be a problem for you? If so ... move now.

  • Choose good passwords. It's tough given the number of accounts and passwords we all need to remember, but the fact is choosing a hard-to-guess password and changing it regularly are important steps you can take to avoid someone stealing your account.

  • Remember your secret answer. I'm kind of surprised I even have to say this, but when you create an account that asks you for a secret question and answer, don't treat it lightly. It doesn't have to be true, just make sure it's something you'll remember in a year or two when (not if) you have a problem.

  • Don't use "remember me" when logging in. At least, don't use it unless you're positive it's safe. If someone else walks up to the computer (be it in an internet cafe, or in your bedroom or office) and "remember me" is selected, they can now login as you without knowing your password. And then they can change your password, locking you out of your own account.

And as always, scan for viruses and spyware regularly.

And finally, and again to be clear:

I cannot recover or change your password for you. I cannot email you your password. I cannot reset your password or your secret question. It's simply not possible. Requests for me to do so will simply be ignored.

If you've lost your password, you don't remember your secret question, and your service has no customer support - you're done. Go create a new account somewhere and hopefully learn from the experience.

Article C2291 - February 25, 2005 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

February 28, 2005 8:56 PM

I don't remember my password...... Can you please send it to my friends account. Im at his house so then i can get it. His email is Thankyou

February 28, 2005 8:57 PM


Dick Nolan
March 9, 2005 5:15 PM

How do I trace an IP to the exact user, not just the server. I'm getting some pretty nasty emails

March 9, 2005 5:21 PM

Typically you cannot. You can try working with your ISP to analyse your email headers, but it's often difficult to trace back to a person, or even a specific machine. It typically requires the cooperation of the *senders* ISP as well.

March 17, 2005 8:52 AM
I'm closing comments on this article, because it's just turned into a stream of requests for exactly what I've said I cannot do.
So to be extra clear:


- Leo

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