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

Hotmail will lock your account, preventing login, if it detects potential abuse or breakin attempts. Unfortunately, that's about all we can know.

I have used the same Hotmail account for my personal email for over 10 years now, and I have never had a problem with it, until recently. About a month ago I started getting locked out of Hotmail. At first I thought a friend was playing a trick by attempting too many passwords, locking my account, and I ignored it. I wasn't worried about intrusion, as I use a strong password.

However the problem does not go away. My hotmail account gets Locked Out probably twice a day now. It is not terribly problematic, as I can just 'reset my password' and be on with it, but yesterday I was required to quickly retrieve a new email while over the phone, and it took me over 2 minutes to retrieve it, almost costing me the phone conversation and ultimately annoying the other person.

What could be causing this? I do not use Messenger or other Windows Live services, and I have AVG installed (scans daily). I have also scanned forum upon forum but seem to find most discussions are thread-jacked by people who forget their security questions, and no one with my problem.

I'll be honest: I don't have a good answer for you.

But I can confirm that I see a lot of people reporting locked accounts, and a few - like you - are successful at regaining access, while many more it seems are not.

I'll review why account locking happens - both the official Windows Live Hotmail explanation, and some speculation of my own - and what, if anything, you can do to avoid it and/or recover from it.

The concept is very simple. From Hotmail's own online help:

Multiple attempts at signing in with the incorrect password might cause your account to become blocked. If your account becomes blocked, you will be asked to Match the characters in the picture and sign in again.

But right from the start we notice an inconsistency: not everyone is given the option of simply filling in a CAPTCHA (aka "Match the characters").

My belief is that the CAPTCHA results only from repeated password failures from a single location. Meaning that if you try too many times you'll be faced with a CAPTCHA to prove that you're human, and not some computer being used to try to hack your account.

"I regularly hear from many people who can't seem to regain any access to their account at all."

I believe there's a second level of "lock" that is more likely what you're experiencing. Something causes the account to lock in such a way that login is simply not permitted. No CAPTCHA is presented, you're simply locked out. In your case since you seem to be able to regain access after a password reset, it's possible that this type of lock can be lifted by that extra level of account validation.

And I'm sure there's a more permanent lock that would require some kind of manual intervention on Hotmail's part to remove.

So, what causes these types of locks? We can really only speculate, but here are some ideas:

  • As you first guessed: someone intentionally attempting to mess with your account. In theory, someone could just try to login to your account repeatedly until it locks. My guess is that if this happens often enough the lock requires more than just a CAPTCHA to recover.

  • As you also checked for: malware on your machine. This could include software that is also attempting to login to your account and failing, as above, or it could be software that has successfully logged in and is now sending spam, which in turn is likely to also lock your account.

  • Spam: I'm sure you're not sending any, but it needs to be said. I would expect that sending spam could get your account locked, or suspended.

  • Other services: you don't use them, but other services provided by Windows Live such as Windows Live Messenger that use your Hotmail account for authentication could be targets for abuse by someone.

  • All of the above - somewhere else. In the prior items the focus has mostly been on people you know, or things happening on your machine. In fact, with only your email address any of the above could be happening elsewhere without your involvement or knowledge. Spammers are attempting to hijack Hotmail accounts all the time.

So, what can you do?

Sounds to me like you're already doing everything that is in your control. Having a strong password is key, as is making sure your own machine - in fact any machine from which you access this account - is secure and malware free, are the key steps to maintaining security.

I'll reiterate that you're fortunate, in that you're able to recover access to your account with only a password reset. I regularly hear from many people who can't seem to regain any access to their account at all.

Checking the Windows Live Help official support forums, there's little additional information. People who report being locked out are given the following instructions:

  1. Visit https://help.live.com/help.aspx?project=liveidv1&market=en-us

  2. Select a topic from the choices at the left side of the page. If the topic does not fit to your problem go to the third step.

  3. Select Get more help link located at the lower-right corner of the page.

  4. Click Get support link.

That "Get Support" link takes you to a form that you can fill out for E-mail support. Unfortunately it's unclear if, or how quickly, you'll get a response. But of course it's worth a try.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my ongoing concerns about free email accounts for anything important. As you can see, you get what you pay for, and customer service - while vastly improved with the introduction of Windows Live Help - is still hit or miss. If something really is important to you I strongly encourage you to make sure you have a backup plan or alternate account for the day when, not if, you can no longer regain access to your account.

Article C3949 - December 13, 2009 « »

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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?

29 Comments
vincent
December 13, 2009 9:17 PM

Could it be a result of this little event:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8291268.stm
?

Mark
December 14, 2009 1:09 AM

Solution: switch to GMail, Yahoo, GMX.com etc. Hotmail has been a problem for many.

Alex
December 15, 2009 11:39 AM

Um. Don't you have an ISP? Or do you access the Internet through a hot spot or something?

Most of us have some sort of Internet access for which we pay, and one of the perks of this service is (usually) free e-mail, often several (I get 10) accounts. These are secure, rarely go down, difficult to hack, not such a target for phishers, and are generally a good deal. Why use Hotmail? (I do not.) It is generally unreliable, is often used for SPAM, easily hacked, easily accessible, need I go on?

Use your ISP's service.

Frank McDonald
December 15, 2009 12:17 PM

I'm locked out of Hotmail and Yahoo mail only on my laptop pc. Desktops not affected. The solution for my laptop is to use Firefox; works like a charm for both email accounts.

Stan Carton
December 15, 2009 1:39 PM

I have a small business and make many contacts with vendors and perspective clients. Any time I deal with people who use free email I am most unimpressed and consider these people to be extremely unprofessional. Free email is very bush league. If you really need your email pay for it! I have never experienced anything like a lock out. If I have a real problem I can get on the phone and talk with a real live person. Free email for anyone but kids is a pet peve of mine.

johnpro2
December 15, 2009 3:33 PM

Run Ccleaner {google available free}..this resets the log in procedures. Try another browser like Firefox or Opera as an experiment.Try access from a library or another computer to eliminate problems with your own PC as a source.
I use hotmail for its convenience and have had no problems fro over 10 years. ISP come and go so hotmail enables you to keep the same email address which is very convenient
Jp

Chris Clark
December 15, 2009 3:54 PM

Hi Leo,

Actually nothing about the Hotmail issue Leo, but just to say I really do feel you perform a public service, and next time you are in London, look me up and I'll buy you another Latte.

Chris

Otto Nielsen
December 15, 2009 4:16 PM

Hi
I have experienced the same problem with being locked out from Hotmail for more than a month. I tried a lot to regain access, but to no avail.
Then for some other reason, I had to stop my router, and restart.....and after restart was completed....I in a few days found out that my Hotmail worked again. I have not understood why, but I think you should know, it could help...maybe...others.

regards
Otto Nielsen

Glenn P.
December 15, 2009 6:25 PM

The reader asked:

Why am I repeatedly locked out of my Hotmail account, and what can I do about it?

May I suggest that you abandon HotMail? There are LOTS of other Free WebMail Services out there... why marry yourself to One???

johnpro2
December 15, 2009 8:59 PM

Go to 'more options' tab and under manage your account, vacation..click 'don't send any vacation replies'

Also ensure there has been no message installed in the vaction message text box ..often installed by a Hotmail bot.

You might be sending out spam and be completely unaware ..resulting in a tempory refusal to access the Hotmail service.

Jp

Charles Tilley
December 15, 2009 9:02 PM

I get two weekly columns, Leo's and The Internet Patrol. Almost every week there's someone (or lots of people a couple of times) locked out of their Hotmail account. I've used Hotmail for two years now, and it and Operamail are the best two that I have. Great spam filters, reliable service, no problems with lockouts. I also have a Yahoo! account, it's flooded with spam everyday. But that's getting off topic. Hotmail is my #1 account for business, I have no problem with it. Either you have malware on your computer or someone (most likely someone you know) is trying to be nosy or is doing this to pester you. With so many logon attempts every day, it would be hard to nail someone down. But I would get in touch with customer service to get to the bottom of it.

Terry Hollett
December 16, 2009 5:14 AM

I always have to put my password in twice. The first time I always get this error message: The e-mail address or password is incorrect. Please try again.

I thought it was just me but, I'm the neighbourhood computer geek :-) and I have noticed a few people around here with the same problem.

(...But I have never been locked out.)

I'm blaming my arch enemy, MICROSOFT :-)

http://hitanykey.webs.com/

Steve
December 16, 2009 5:26 AM

You could configure Hotmail to forward a copy to an alternate account. This way, if you're locked out, you could access your email via that alternate account.

Ken B
December 16, 2009 8:09 AM

Terry said:

I always have to put my password in twice. The first time I always get this error message: The e-mail address or password is incorrect. Please try again.
If you "always" get that error the first time, the odds are that something has intercepted your login, and you are really on a phishing page.

How do you get to the login page? Try going there by typing the complete URL into your browser's address bar. Don't use any bookmarks. Don't use any suggested URLs that might appear. If that works, then the answer is that you have probably been going to a phishing site, and giving them your login information every time. Reset the bookmark/whatever you were previously using to go to the login page to the correct URL, and immediately change your password.

Gabe
December 16, 2009 9:12 AM

I "second" what Ken B has stated about Terry's comment.

Furthermore, if you do discover that you are a victim of giving your password to someone, even inadvertently, I do agree that you need to change your password but don't stop there. I don't think it's mentioned enough...people who can log into your email can probably get your banking information (they're not necessarily just trying to use your address to forward spam).

Think about this. If you have a bank account at a popular bank and your email address (with the compromised password) is linked too it, the perp has already gone to all of the big bank websites and clicked the "oops I forgot my password" link. The bank now sends the new password to your email, the perp gets the bank password, and all of this within the first hour of them getting your email password. SO, changing your password is already not enough to stop them from getting into your financial life. Call your bank and confirm that this "I forgot my password" link hasn't been clicked or when your account was last accessed. Typically, many of the big bank sites have other security hoops to jump through, but some do not. Plus, since they are a professional perp, they probably know exactly what popular financial sites have the easiest hoops to jump through. Consider the password recovery process of your bank. Does it send the username along with the new password? If not, that's good but if your username is the same as your email address, then the perp will guess it. Do they have any other security hoops? My bank requires authentication with other personal information before it will resend the password.

Also, since they've had access to your email, they may also have gone into your email settings and set it up to forward a copy of your emails to some other email address that they monitor...so even though they can't access your account after you change your password, your account could be sending copies to another address. Check your email settings and it's forwarding properties.

Henk
December 16, 2009 10:15 AM

Hi all
@Stan Carton: some businesses send a reply mail or a confirmation mail that will be blocked by the normal accounts I have. But they can reach me by way of my hotmail account. E.g. www.brusselsairlines.com or hotel chains in the USA. Quite annoying if one doesn't think about this. Of course, you can also make a screen shot of the order--I know.

John Neeting
December 17, 2009 3:37 AM

I agree with Leo's comments. All I can add is make your password more secure by using a phrase [ like the first line of your favorite song ] No spaces but some thing like [ not mine ]
'andimetheronasundayafternoonbythecreek'
My own password is longer than this and I doubt anyone could crack it. So far so good; haven't had a bit of trouble.

John
March 10, 2010 3:22 PM

My hotmail account has locked me out. The problem began when Windows Messenger kept signing in automatically. I disabled the automatic sign-in and changed my password. Everything was fine, but when I tried to log into my hotmail recently, it said that I had the wrong password and it locked me out. When I try to reset the password, it asks for my location and secret answer. I made the account years ago and don't even remember the information. How can I get emails from the locked out account to copy to the new hotmail account I have?

s woodruff
May 22, 2010 12:52 PM

Captcha appears broken - either the login page nor the password reset page recognise a correct typing of the captch - 3 people stand round and agree on what it says, but the web page says no.
This is probably leading to many of the problems reported - for example if you type the wrong password 2 or 3 times then you are asked, next time, for the captcha. The response will be something like "wrong password or captcha"...and you naturally think you've mistyped or forgotten your password, and try a few variations until you get really locked out.

Cheryl
May 28, 2011 9:34 PM

I, too, have been locked out of my hotmail email account. I have been with them for 8 years and have had absolutely no problems, until now. There is no tech. support for us "free" users of hotmail. I am so lost at this moment. I've talked to microsoft 800 number people, but they say they can't help me and Windows Live, what a joke! Absolutely no help there! It takes them 1 to 2 days before I'll even get an answer and it is a useless answer at that.
So, I'm going on day 4 now with no help at all from Microsoft. Is there any "free" email sites that are worth using? I don't know anything about the paying ones. Where would I go for a paying one and if I pay them, will I have any problems? Hotmail Plus is a paying service, but at this point, I'm totally fed up with hotmail and I really don't think that I want to give them any money for whatever service I would get there.
Hotmail Plus doesn't even have 24 hour service! I just called them to see if I became a paying customer now, would they help me get my account back and all I get is a recording that the office is closed! What is wrong with Microsoft, how ridiculous! Any suggestions as to where I should go now to open an email account?

Mark J
May 29, 2011 1:46 AM

@Cheryl
I've been using GMail since it came out and have had very good user experience with them. They also have an excellent spam filter. As for a pay service, for most people this refers to using the email service supplied by your Internet Service Provider.
http://ask-leo.com/google_mail_free_email_that_works_and_leaves_you_in_control.html
http://ask-leo.com/are_free_email_services_worth_it.html
http://ask-leo.com/what_forpay_email_providers_do_you_recommend.html

Paul Hinnell
June 18, 2011 8:02 AM

Hi, i am have been blocked out from my account. i have followed the steps - entered in my mobile number to get an access code but it never arrives. I have tried this four times now and i get nothing. I desperatle ned access to my emails for work.
Please can some one give me a solution!!!

This article discusses recovery options for the various ways that Hotmail accounts can be lost or compromised: What are my Lost Hotmail Account and Password Recovery Options?
Leo
18-Jun-20111

mary
June 28, 2011 3:53 AM

i have a facebook account and i cant get into it fb is telling me i have to send personal information like a picture or something with my name on it i have a security question too this is the first time this has happend can anyone help me out with this
thanks
mary

undo-hotmail
July 13, 2011 8:29 AM

HotMail account recovery tools is useless, think twice before use hotmail. you do not own your personal data. so if your a/c loss, they don't care. I have 10 years contact list. someone try to hack it and their disable the account. even you have right password. they don't list their phone no, to resolve your problem or pay them to recovery your account. I don't care how good new features, if you loss your a/c, what is good´╗┐ for it

talal ahmad
August 26, 2011 1:41 PM

Dear Sir
hotmaill have blocked my account for no reason and after i followed the process for your kind self hotmail company i end up repeating the same process again and again ,my email is very important for my business as i use it to confirm the reservation and send special offers to tourism agents ,and i used my alternate email address but with no result
my email is ''{email address removed}'' and my alternate address is {email address removed} and i kept on trying for no result ;as i'm in infinte cycle .
i contacted my technical support department to sort out the problem and i end up telling me to contact your support department for hotmail .
would you kindly sort out my problem as soon as possible as its affecting my work and my business process ,my first password was ''{password removed}'' and on the other hand my last password is "{password removed}'' please proceed as soon as possible
dont hestitate to contact me at my other business email '''{email address removed}' for further information or to confirm any thing from my side
Kind regards

Mark J
August 26, 2011 2:30 PM

@Talal
We cannot recover hacked accounts, lost or forgotten
passwords. Please see this article for more information on your options: http://ask-leo.com/C2724

Your email addresses and passwords have been removed for your to protect your privacy.

Corrado
December 14, 2011 7:22 AM

Hello, I do share the same matter, but once applying for the unblocking procedure they do ask so many personal data, including password and credit card details, that I wonder if it is legal. My account - {email removed} - has worked properly until 1pm Italian time, starting from 3 pm I was blocked . And now, what to do ?...big matter to be solved ! Best regards

If you provided someone with your password, then it's very possible you fell for a scam. No one should ever ask you for your password. This article discusses recovery options for the various ways that Hotmail accounts can be lost or compromised and I believe it applies here: What are my Lost Hotmail Account and Password Recovery Options?
Leo
14-Dec-2011
Connie
December 14, 2011 8:47 AM

@Corrado
It's very hard to get compromised emails back. Would be good to also learn about protection while you go through all this. Posting your email online opens you to lots of problems. Read this article also:
Internet Security, Keep Your Computer Safe on the Internet

Zygmunt
July 28, 2012 6:34 PM

Do you remember old saying ? If you don't know what it is, it is the MONEY !!! It happened to me this weekend after using Hotmail for 25 years. $ 100 > ONE HUNDRED BUCKS . They said it was locked up because "someone" logged in from different places. I'm a truck driver... I travel... I log in to it from "100 different" places day after day. What a f..... corporate scum !!!

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