It’s Friday morning and you think you can meet an important end-of-week work deadline if you just focus and plow through for the next eight hours. Skip lunch? Check. Turn off social media? Check. Now to login in to Gmail and Google Sheets and Google Docs to get moving on this … Wait … What the heck?
If you’re like many of us who rely on Google’s suite of business, academic, and personal productivity tools, it’s the moment that can bring your day to a screeching halt. Whether it’s due a changed password, hacking of your account, or some other reason, you can’t log in to your Google account and the many services connected to that account.
The web is filled with advice and shortcuts on what to do in this situation, from tapping your password manager to turning off two-factor authentication (not recommended!).
Rather than use Google’s most popular tool, Search, for the answer, we decided to ask the company directly what happens when users can’t get in and what steps they should take to recover their account. Guemmy Kim, director of account safety and security at Google, guided us through our questions.
How Do Google Accounts Get Disabled?
First, let’s try to understand why you might be in this situation at all.
Kim says there are three main scenarios where a user can find themselves unable to get into their account. The first is the user losing their credentials. That could mean you forgot your password, you changed your Google password on one device and forgot to reenter it on another device, or any other number of credential snafus.
The second scenario is when a user’s Google account is disabled due to suspected hacking. “If Google suspects that an account has been hijacked, we disable it as a proactive measure,” Kim says. “This is similar to how a bank would suspend a credit card if they identify suspicious transactions on the account.”
The third scenario is that Google suspends an account that is in violation of its policies. If a user has posted abusive content, or their email address is involved in phishing hacks, those would be a few of the possible reasons for an account to get disabled over a policy issue.
So I Know Why I’m Locked Out. What Can I Do?
For a password or credentials issue, you would go through the “Forgot email?” link below the login prompt or start Google’s Automated Account Recovery process, which walks you through a series of questions to either access the account through a secondary method (a phone number or other email address, for instance) or, if these methods don’t work, to create a replacement account.
The same goes for accounts that are suspected of being hijacked; you should use the Account Recovery tool. Kim says that an important part of ensuring a smooth recovery is that you have recovery phone numbers or email addresses set up in advance. “We strongly encourage everyone to add a recovery phone number to their account.” Kim added that any phone numbers added for two-factor authentication are not used for anything else, so you don’t have to worry about it being used by marketers.