How to break back into your locked accounts

It’s best to be prepared for the worst.

Most of the time, we log into our apps and digital accounts on autopilot—it’s easy when our devices remember our information and we never sign out. That’s why losing access to one or more of the digital accounts you rely on every day can be a major headache.

Perhaps you’re setting up a new device and you can’t remember your password because it’s been so long since you actually had to log in somewhere new. Or maybe you’ve been the victim of a hack or data breach, and someone else has changed your password and locked you out of your accounts.

Hopefully you’re never in situations like those, but if you are, fixing the problem will be much easier if you prepare now. Each of your accounts has some kind of recovery process, so it’s important to find out what those steps are and that the information they’re using is up to date.

We’ve covered some of the most well-known apps and accounts here, but we’d recommend doing the same checks on all your important accounts. If you’re using any we haven’t listed, you should be able to find similar recovery options by digging around in the settings or having a look online.

From a security standpoint, remember that someone trying to gain access to your accounts can also use the same recovery options. So if you have backup phone numbers and email addresses on file, you should make sure those accounts are also well-protected against unauthorized access.

Google

If you log into your Google account on the web, you can get at everything related to account access by clicking on the Security link on the left. You should be particularly interested in the Ways that we can verify that it’s you box—these are the methods Google will use to verify your identity if you get locked out of your account.

The options should include a recovery cellphone number, a recovery email address, and a security question—click on any of the entries to make changes and to check that everything is up to date. If you need to regain access to your account, Google will send a special link to your phone or alternative email address, so that contact information needs to be current.

Apple

Open your Apple ID page on the web, then click Edit (next to the Security heading). You’ll find the information Apple associates with your account, plus the devices you’re currently signed into (if you’ve been logged out of your Apple account on one device, you might still be able to access it from another one).

As far as future account recovery is concerned, two bits of information are important here: the Trusted phone numbers and Notification email sections. Make sure both of these are stocked with correct, up-to-date details, as these are the channels Apple will use to reset your password if you can’t remember it.

Microsoft

Head to your Microsoft account page on the web, and you’ll have access to everything related to it—such as your ongoing subscriptions, the devices you’re logged in on, and how much data Microsoft is collecting on you. To configure your account recovery options, click Security, then Security contact info.

It’s the usual drill here: You can provide both a cellphone number and an email address and Microsoft will use them to contact you and verify your identity if you ever get locked out of your account. Click Add security info to add something new, or Change alert options to set which contact Microsoft uses first.

Netflix

Protecting access to your Netflix account might not be as vital as keeping your Google, Apple, and Microsoft accounts locked down, but it’s still definitely worth securing. If you log into Netflix on the web, you can find various security options by hovering the mouse over your avatar (top right) and choosing Account.

The two choices at the very top are the ones you’ll need to ensure are accurate—the account email and account phone number. If Netflix needs to send you a password reset link, it’ll use these details to do it. You can also reset a Netflix password if you know your billing details—follow the instructions here.

Instagram

Instagram will use the email address and phone number you have on file to reset your password, if necessary. You can find this information by logging into your Instagram account on the web and clicking Edit profile on the left. You can have one email address and one cellphone number, so make sure they’re in use and well-protected.

As you can see from Instagram’s password reset page, you can enter your username, registered phone number, or email address to receive a reset link that will let you back into a locked account.

Facebook

Facebook lets you get back into your account in numerous ways. Go to your Facebook account on the web, then click General and make sure your details under Contact are correct. You can add several email addresses and phone numbers here, which Facebook will use to get in touch with you if you’re ever logged out.

Another handy feature is listed under Security and login: Click Edit next to Choose 3 to 5 friends to contact if you are locked out, and you can give Facebook the names of three, four, or five people you’re connected to on the social network. If you get locked out, Facebook can contact these people to make sure you’ve really been hacked or have truly forgotten your password (you’ll need to let your friends know, of course).