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Hotmail account compromise is common. How to get your Hotmail account back varies based on just what was stolen. I'll review the different scenarios.
As long time readers know I get a lot of reports of Hotmail account theft and compromise. Every day there are reports of everything from simple password loss, to email being sent "From" your email address, to attempts to actually scam your contacts.
Depending on exactly what's happened, the available remedies may be simple, they may be difficult, or they may be completely impossible: your account and everything in it might be lost forever.
I'll review the various scenarios, and direct you to related articles on Ask Leo! that cover the options for each.
Someone - usually someone you don't know at all - getting email that looks like it's from you that you didn't send is not at all uncommon. Spammers have been spoofing the "From:" address for a long time, and there's nothing that you can really do about it. Someone's sending from my email address! How do I stop them?! discusses the scenario in more depth.
A very common hijack in recent months has someone hacking into and taking over your account and then sending email to all your contacts with a story about how you've taken an impulsive trip overseas and are now stranded and in need of money. Someone's stolen my email account and is scamming my contacts for money, what do I do? discusses this scam and what you need to do.
Hackers don't always change your password, and you may still have access to your account while they do too. Most often the first sign that there's trouble is that your contacts start getting emails from you that you didn't send that look very much like spam. Whether or not they've changed your password and locked you out My Windows Live Hotmail contact list has been hacked, how do I recover? and Someone's sending email that looks like it's from me to my contacts, what can I do? both cover this annoying scenario.
Sometimes they don't even bother sending email but simply sneak into your account and change the "signature" that's appended to the bottom of every message you send. Now each email you send automatically includes their spammy message. Why do messages I compose in Hotmail now start with an ad that looks like it's from me? discusses this and its easy fix.
By far the most common scenario I hear of is that one day you simply can't login to your Hotmail account. Be it having forgotten your password, or having your account stolen, you're left with no way to access the contents of your email account.
If you've simply forgotten your password but have an alternate email address configured then the best approach is outlined in this older article: How do I change my MSN Hotmail password if I forgot it? (it discusses an older version of Hotmail, but the technique remains valid). If you didn't configure or can't remember your secret question, then I've forgotten the answer to my MSN Hotmail secret question, *and* my password, what do I do? is the article to read.
Finally, if all else fails you can use Windows Live's own Windows LiveID Account Recovery Help Page. There you'll be taken through a form where you can "prove" that you are the rightful account owner, and having done so may regain access to the account.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot prove that you are the account owner, you will not be given access, and it's likely you'll have lost the account forever.
A common solution to many account related problems, or at least a common step along the road to recovery, is to change your password.
How do I change my Windows Live Hotmail password? covers the common and simple "how to" for Hotmail.
Choosing a good password is critical to maintaining the security of your account. What's a good password? talks about what that means and some of the better approaches to take.
What many people don't realize is that after an account compromise changing your password is important, but not nearly enough. Is changing my password enough? shows you why and what additional steps are critical.
Many people react to account problems by wanting to close their account immediately. Quite often it's simply not possible, and the rest of the time it's not necessarily important or even desirable.
How do I close my Windows Live Hotmail account shows how to close your account, but then also addresses another important question: why bother?
How do I get Hotmail to close my stolen account? discusses account theft related scenarios, and what it takes to close an account you've lost.
Hotmail has no phone support. Period. Nor do they have an email address you can communicate with. Hotmail is free and keeping their support costs low is one way they keep it free.
As a result your direct support options are limited, and they're discussed in this article: How do I contact Windows Live Hotmail customer service?
I'll also repeat the Windows LiveID Account Recovery Help Page mentioned above as one approach to potentially recover a lost account.
Many people get frustrated at the lack of support, lack of options, and lack of resources that are available once they suffer an account compromise of some sort. That's understandable, but it's often not until the worst happens that people realize how unprotected they really are.
Are free email services worth it? discusses some of the pros and cons of free email accounts, and How do I safely use a free email account? talks about some of the ways it's possible to safely use a free email account.
Given my stance on free email accounts What for-pay email providers do you recommend? answers the very common question that results.
Finally, by far the most important way to deal with trouble is to avoid it in the first place. Perhaps the most important article on Ask Leo! is Internet Safety: How do I keep my computer safe on the internet?
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