By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, July 4, 2010; G02
Q: Somebody took over my Web-mail account and locked me out. How do I get back in?
A: I've heard this story from two different people in the past six weeks, one a longtime Hotmail user and the other a more recent convert to Gmail. Both had set up their accounts so long ago that they had not set up or had forgotten the usual account-rescue options -- sending a password-reset link to an alternate e-mail address or answering a designated "secret" question.
The top-three Web-mail services offer different fixes for this unpleasant scenario.
At Hotmail, a form available at http://windowslivehelp.com/passwordreset.aspx will ask for such authenticating information as your Internet provider, the date of your last successful login and the names of contacts.
At Yahoo, a password-reset form (http://edit.yahoo.com/forgot) will request your birthday, country and Zip or postal code, followed by your secret question.
And at Gmail, clicking the "Can't access your account?" linkon the Gmail login page and choosing "I think someone else is using my account" on the next page will lead to a form in which you can provide such supporting details as the month and year in which you created the account.
But if you choose a strong password -- one not shared with other accounts -- keep your computer free of viruses and don't fall prey to phishing scams, you shouldn't need to go through these workarounds.
It also helps to verify that your service has a current alternate e-mail address saved and if you opt for a backup option available at Google and Yahoo: storing your mobile-phone number to allow a password reset via text messages.
Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for his Faster Forward blog.