Can you recover my Hotmail password?
I've been using Hotmail for years without a problem but suddenly it rejects my password, and when I go to the password recovery option, it doesn't like my zip code or other secret information. I have vital information in my inbox! Can you reset my password for me or tell me the new password?
No, I can't. In fact, there's at least a half-dozen columns I could write about this subject because it's so frequent that I see these requests, even people asking me to recover the password for an account of their "recently deceased best friend" or once even a "doctor" claiming that he had vital patient information on his Yahoo Mail account and could no longer log in. I mean, come ON!
To be fair, some of the queries are probably legit and people really did sign up for these free Web-based services with false birthdays, street addresses, zip codes, phone numbers, etc., as a crude way of protecting themselves from identity theft and just masking their identity a bit.
If you are signing up for an online service of any type, it's really not a good idea to use completely bogus, made-up information because if you ever did lose your password, you couldn't prove you were the account holder and you'd be permanently locked out. If you're not sure whether you used bogus info for a service that's grown to be a key part of your daily routine (like Google's Gmail service, Twitter or your Blogger.com account) then now's a great time to log in and check your profile to ensure that it's legit and accurate. Just in case.
I believe that most of the queries I get, however legit they sound, are from people who are fishing for other people's account passwords so they can mess with things, send out email pretending to be someone else, or even use the accounts for spam or virus attacks. In the 21st century, your high school enemy doesn't TP your house, they hack your MySpace account and send nasty messages to your friends.
Sometimes, though, people do have their passwords stolen, often through either a phishing attack or a keylogger. The former you've probably seen in your email inbox marked as spam, it's the note from eBay, Paypal, a bank you don't know, etc., saying your account has been put on hold and it's imperative you log in immediately and confirm your account information. Just use their handy little link -- to the wrong site, not the actual organization but to a page that looks exactly right but simply logs your account and password when you submit it. Enter your info there and you're hosed: they then promptly log in to your real account and change the password so you lose access to your own account. Game over. Not good.
A keylogger is even more distressing, though you find these more in Internet Cafes overseas than in the USA: it's a small device that is attached directly to a keyboard cable (often where the keyboard plugs into the computer itself, so you can't even see it) and records the last few thousand keystrokes entered. For an enterprising geek, this information can be unwrapped and, with a little bit of effort, everything you typed pulled out and analyzed. Even if you go to secure sites, even if you're connected to your office Virtual Private Network. Sound scary? You bet it is. That's one great reason to be very careful about what computers you borrow to access the Internet when you're traveling.
Anyway, don't ask me to help you recover your password if you lose it. Even if I believed your story - and, as I said, I'm sure some of them are legit - I don't have any special powers and really can't help you out with the problem.
Instead, make sure your profile information is accurate and try to routinely change your password every few months. And be vigilant.
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