Trouble with free email accounts

I received an all too common complaint from someone on trouble with a free email account. They asked:

Twice in the past four years, Microsoft has locked me out of my Hotmail account.  Last time they did it, I was NOT able to ever get back in & had to create a new account and just forget all about everything that was in the one I had had for 12+ years.  I keep very pertinent information in my email account- loads & loads of information, every place I’ve ever applied for a job, every cover letter and resume I’ve ever sent out, and other account information, like electric company, the bank, whatever, it has everything in it so you can imagine the panic I feel when they lock me out. My question to you is, do you know why they keep doing this and why when they do, they ask silly questions like, what was the last three passwords you used, what was the last three people you emailed etc, I mean, some of the questions they ask I can only get by getting into my email, so, its a useless loop they send me on.  Then they say they’ll send a code to my phone and they never, ever, ever do that!  Have you heard of this happening before and if so, what can I do to avoid it in the future?

There are many possible answers to this question; so here’s my shot at it.

It’s really hard to know exactly why that happens; there are many possible reasons. One of the most likely reasons is that someone may have hacked your account and used it to send spam.

Additionally, one of the problems with using a “free” email account like Hotmail (now, Yahoo, Gmail, etc., is the lack of helpful support.

The bottom line is that you have to plan ahead for problems. I like using my own domain name, so that I can manage my email addresses.

In order to use a free email account successfully you need to have a backup plan. With some accounts, there might be a way to copy the important emails that you need to your hard drive. I have not tried that with Hotmail, so I don’t know if that will work.

Another approach would be to send the important emails to one or two other free accounts. The idea is to set up accounts with Hotmail, and/or Gmail, and/or Yahoo, and/or etc. , and don’t use those other accounts to send/receive email to other people so that you’re not revealing those accounts to others.

Above all, use complex passwords that no one else can guess, and never use the same password twice. Passwords should be at least 10 characters and include upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and common punctuation (be aware that some punctuation will be rejected by various sites.) Don’t use dictionary words or pets names or friends or a straight sequence of numbers. For instance,

IlovemyDad is a nice thought but a bad password, but by changing letters to numbers and adding some punctuation you can make a better password that is still easy to remember.

I10v3-myD4d! is a much better password, althought still not the greatest because it is based on a common phrase. It would be better to pick a weird phrase that you can remember.

Better still is using a password manager like LastPass or KeePass to create and keep track of long, gobbledygook user names and passwords. I have passwords that I have no idea what they are.

The next rule is to change passwords every couple of months. I know that’s a pain, but look at the alternative: get hacked and you have even more pain. With my 100+ websites that I use, if I change one password every day, I get thru the whole list in 100+ days. (Do as I preach, not as I do.)