How To Recover Old Google Accounts Without A Password

Illustration: Shutterstock

We all forget passwords sometimes. It happens. If you use a password manager, this shouldn’t be a problem at all — in fact, I’m expecting you will not be able to remember your long and complicated passwords. I sure don’t. But there are plenty of people who don’t use password managers, and this means that they run the risk of losing access to older accounts if their passwords (and backup methods) fail.

That’s exactly the scenario that Lifehacker reader Rebecca sent our way. She writes:

“I’ve been locked out of my google account for at least 2-3 years now but its still connected to my yahoo mail box so i can still send and receive emails from it through my yahoo link but i have several things in my google drive id like back. I don’t remember my password and i dont have my old phone number any more can you help me”

Well, I’m relieved that you can still somewhat access your Google account, albeit not in the way that you were hoping to do. This problem is a bit perplexing at first, but let’s walk through your options.

First, I’m going assume that you don’t know your Google account’s password. All roads lead to Google’s Account Recovery tool even if you don’t know the Gmail address associated with the account, but that’s going to make it even trickier for you to recover your account. For example, you’ll have to first provide information you might not even know, since you would have already probably used either option to recover your account in the first place:

Screenshot: David Murphy

Input your phone number, and ideally your name, and Google will fire off a text message to that number to verify that you are you. This doesn’t help in your case, though, since you don’t have access to that old number. And if you remembered your recovery email, it’s the same deal; Google would fire off a verification message to that, and you would begin the account recovery process that way.

Screenshot: David Murphy

The problem? This is all just to help you remember what your Google account was. You’ll still have to go through the password-reset process, which might prove problematic. Here’s what I mean. You’ll start by entering your email address (since you no longer have access to your phone number):

Screenshot: David Murphy

You’ll have to enter your name, which should be easy enough, and then you’ll enter your email address (that you can check from Yahoo). You’ll get a verification code that you’ll then have to type into the account-recovery process, just as before.

In my case, I was then asked to enter my password—which I don’t know, and indicated as such. Google then asked me to enter the last password I ever knew for that account. I’m assuming you don’t know that either. (I wouldn’t.) If so, you’ll have to click “Try another way,” and in my case, Google then peppered me with other questions, like asking for the first phone number I ever associated with the account, the month and year I created my account, et cetera.

Is this process cumbersome? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s the best you can do; Google provides no additional support beyond its Account Recovery tool, no matter how many separate articles you’ve read about people finding some magic customer service number (like what they get if they sign up for a Google One plan, for example) that they can call for additional help. Don’t bother. If the tool can’t fix it, then it cannot be fixed.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but I sort-of get Google’s point in being strict about this. It’s a security thing. If everything its recovery tool asks you still isn’t enough to prove that you actually own the account in question, a tearful story over the phone shouldn’t convince Google to let you in. What’s to stop another person from coming up with some clever way to convince a customer support agent that they are really you (and should be let into your account)?

Anyway, I’m hoping that Google’s tool is enough to get you in. If not, you’re stuck. I’d keep thinking for ways to verify you are you—perhaps, for example, one of your very first Gmail messages is somewhere in your Yahoo inbox, and that can help you figure out when you started the account (to answer a verification question). Maybe you’ve used your old Gmail password on another service, and going through some of your common passwords you use everywhere—if that’s a thing you do—could help get you into your Google account.

Screenshot: David Murphy

If, or when, you get in, I recommend hitting up your account settings and setting up a new recovery phone number and email address—and change your security question, in case you forgot that too. And stay on top of this in the years that follow; the last thing you’ll want to do is fight to get back into your Google account again if your recovery information is out of date. Also, consider using a password manager to store all of your login information for you, so you never have to worry about forgetting ever again.


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