How To Get Into Your Email When You Have Lost Access to the Recovery Codes

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Will Young

By now, hopefully, you know how important it is to secure your online accounts using multi-factor authentication (MFA). If my previous sentence sounds like gibberish to you, go ahead and get up to speed on what multi-factor authentication is, and why it’s important (Pssst.. hey…. we wrote it up in a previous article).

While multi-factor authentication is a great method of preventing unauthorized access to your account, there’s one major catch that can really, really screw up your day: losing the factor that allows you to access your account (I.E. your cell phone).

Normally, forgetting your password is no big deal, because you can just provide your user ID or email address, confirm some personal information, and  receive a link and a code to reset your account.

Easy, right? Well, not really. At times things take a different turn. For example, what happens if you are unable to access the codes to get you back into the account? We bet that situation sounds pretty bleak, right? If the thought of this sends shivers down your back, read on!

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First things first! If you have never envisioned such a scenario, then you need to know it can happen. And when it happens and you do not have the recovery codes, there is a good chance you’ll lose your account, for good!

To prevent such occurrences, it is important to write down ( or print out, tattoo, whatever the hell physical form you won’t lose) your recovery code. Alternatively, you can save the codes in a text file and then put the text file on an external storage device, and keep it in a lockbox, or some other physically hardened location.

If you have lost the recovery codes, here are some methods you can use to recover your account.

Get a new phone from your carrier
While authentication methods often require the use of an app, almost all include the option of sending a Short Message Service (SMS) code as a backup. Though SMS is not considered a secure method compared to using an authentication app, it is one of the few options available to you when you have lost your phone but need to access the account. Once you request your carrier to transfer your phone number to a new SIM card or handset, you can then have the email service send an SMS text containing a numeric code to help you recover the account. Your mileage may vary, some providers won’t allow this.

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Use a different connected device
If your account came with the option of linking it with a secondary device, use that option by clicking on “Having Trouble Getting a Code”, or whatever similar option there is. Your online account service provider should send a verification code or voicemail. In some instances, you get a call with a verification code. On Apple products, it’s just a simple notification that pops up. Either way, if you have another device that’s connected to the account, you may be able to use it to authorize your access.

Contact the email provider
You can always contact your service provider, the only downside is that recovering your account can take several days. And in many, if not most instances, they will tell you there is nothing they can do to help you to recover the account. I bet you’ll hate me for saying it, but it’s good they won’t allow you to access it – If they could, that would be yet another channel for the average hacker or social engineer to exploit.

Since recovering your account can be quite a harrowing experience if you have lost your recovery codes, it is important to have all your backup options at hand. Hopefully you never have to go through this, but if you do, hopefully you learned something!

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