In response to our 3-part series on recovering lost Gmail, Anne writes:  “This happened to me a month ago – all my emails prior to October 5 were totally gone. I have contacted google support and they tell me that all my emails were deleted and I should change my password. I had super important documents attached to emails-all gone. This can’t be possible. I tried all the methods that were suggested-trash, all mail, etc. NOTHING! Unbelievable that this can happen.”

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Unfortunately Anne, this is all too believable and all too common. But there are some steps you can take to prevent this from happening again.

First, make sure you have a very strong password. Use a combination of capital and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols (@,$,# etc…) that are more than 6 characters long. I’d even suggest going as long as 12. It should not be a word and certainly not the name of your pet or your anniversary or anything that might be easy to figure out Click here for a method using a favorite song to create a password. But you could also follow a similar technique with Bible verses or quotes from books. Change your passwords on a regular basis, too.

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Next, enable two-factor authentication. That means anyone logging into your account will also have to confirm their identity by responding to a text sent to your phone or an e-mail sent to a secondary e-mail account. Or maybe they’ll have to answer some security questions. This extra step is enough to deter many crooks. They don’t have your phone or your alternate e-mail address. Click here to learn how to enable two-factor authentication in Gmail. No matter what your e-mail service, there’s likely a method of two-factor authentication. Use this tool.

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Don’t leave important documents only stored online in your Gmail. Putting all of your eggs in one basket in a bad idea.

You can use an e-mail client like Outlook or Thunderbird to download copies of important e-mails. You can click on important documents and save them to your PC. Or simply copy and paste the contents of important e-mails. Then back up this information to an external drive or upload to another cloud account. The more copies of truly important information you have, the better.

The sad fact is that there are people who do nothing all day but try to break into other people’s e-mail accounts. There are thousands of people doing this all day every single day. It’s their job. It doesn’t matter which e-mail provider you use. Thousands of criminals are looking to hack your account. The person with the most power to prevent this from happening is you. Use strong passwords and change them frequently. Enable two-factor authentication. Back up all important data in multiple locations.

Make sure your virus and malware protection is activated and up-to-date. Malware on your PC can steal information like passwords. (I’d like to throw in a special reminder to those still using an XP machine not to go online with it.)

How many of you out there have enabled 2-factor authentication on your e-mail or other accounts like Facebook? How many of you really have a strong password? If you don’t take these steps, it’s like trying lock the door of your house with one of those flimsy little locks for bathroom doors in restaurants.

Protect yourself!

~ Cynthia