Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
I get periodic reports of email disappearing from Hotmail Inboxes. "Why" might be interesting, but more important is "What now?"
I logged into my MSN Hotmail account today and my inbox was empty! I had lots of important emails there and nowhere else. What happened, and how do I go about recovering the contents of my MSN Hotmail Inbox?
That's actually a synthesis of a question I get almost daily. People login to their MSN Hotmail or Windows Live Hotmail account one day only to find that all of their messages are gone. Poof.
I'll review what the possible causes are and also what (little) can be done.
I'll start with my standard admonition: this scenario is exactly why I so strongly recommend against relying on any free email account as the only place to keep anything you consider important. Things like this happen, apparently more frequently than most people realize, and there's almost nothing that can be done.
So with that out of the way, let's look at what might have happened.
You shared your password with someone you shouldn't have. This is probably the most common scenario, particularly among younger users. There should never be a reason to share your password with anyone (save, perhaps, your parents if you're underage). Doing so is simply asking for trouble. Yes, you may be friends today, but next week? Next month? Next year? Who knows? And with your password they have the ability to cause all kinds of damage.
You were hacked. This has all sorts of complicated connotations, but in fact this kind of hacking is most commonly done simply by guessing your password. We all want to choose a password that's easy to remember, and I understand that, but if it's too easy to remember then it's probably too easy to guess. And once someone guesses your password, all bets are off. They can do whatever they want with your account including deleting it, changing it, and sending nasty messages to all your friends and contacts.
Temporary Server Problems. I would not have guessed this one actually, but I keep hearing reports of it. The scenario looks like this: you login, your inbox is empty. You login a few hours later, and everything is back. That's clearly a problem at the mail provider's end. So be sure to try again in "a while", whatever that might be. An hour might be expecting too much, and after a few days you can probably be assured that this isn't the problem.
You might not be looking at your inbox. Particularly with Windows Live Hotmail's new interface, it's easy to overlook which mail folder you might have selected. If you've accidentally clicked on a folder that has nothing it, like "Drafts", it might appear that your inbox is empty. Before panicking, click on the "Inbox" icon on the left to make sure you're looking where you think you are. This also clears "full message view" which can obscure the list of messages in your inbox.
You've selected a display filter. Next to the "Sort by" item in the Windows Live Hotmail column header is a small icon that allows you to "Show only messages..." that meet a criteria. For example you could elect to show only messages that have an attachment. If there are none, then your inbox will appear empty. Once again, clicking on the inbox icon to the left will clear the filter and show you all messages in your inbox.
It just disappeared for reasons unknown. I hate to even have to include this as a possibility, but as best I can tell it happens. Recently it seemed to occur as accounts were switched from the old style MSN Hotmail to the new Windows Live Hotmail, but that should be over by now. Nonetheless, I've not been able to determine a common cause or reason. It just happens.
So what can you do?
Sorry to say, pretty much nothing.
You can try to contact customer support. The quickest route I found was this link: https://support.live.com/eform.aspx, and then click on Windows Live Hotmail. You can then submit a support request.
If I sound skeptical, it's because I am. Certainly every request I've ever made using this approach has been ignored. That's also what I hear from the vast majority of readers who've attempted it as well. However, every so often I do hear a success story, so it's certainly worth the attempt. Let's face it, you have nothing to lose.
But in all likelihood, you've already lost everything.
If customer service does not respond to your request, I know of no way to recover your inbox.
So I would take this as a very hard lesson learned, and once again, never rely on any free email account as the only place to keep anything important.