SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Forgetting your password is annoying. Getting locked out of your account because of it can bring major frustration.
It happened to Thomas Fahey of San Francisco, who found himself trying to persuade a Google computer to give him back his Google account. And he was losing.
“What do I have to do to prove I’m me?” Fahey said, clearly exasperated. “I answered everything right.”
It began when Fahey was trying to reset his password, which he does often to thwart potential hackers. However, he was resetting on two devices at the same time.
“I think that sent up a red flag because Google locked me out of my account,” Fahey said.
Suddenly he could not access some of his most important information.
“I had everything on there,” he said. “My job search, my emails, my Google Drive, my storage. I needed it to update the apps on my phone. I realized what a stranglehold Google has on my life.”
Google blocked his access but invited him to the “account recovery” page.
“It says you’re talking to Lily on the Google account team but I think Lily is a computer,” he said.
There, Fahey was instructed to answer a series of security questions.
“It asked me what was my favorite mission to the moon and I answered…the correct answer,” he said. (we’re omitting it here).
The Google computer considered his responses, but to his surprise, it didn’t believe Fahey was Fahey. And it wouldn’t give his account back.
An automated email to Fahey said, “We’re committed to returning accounts only when we’re sure that we’re giving them back to their owners. Unfortunately, based on the information you provided, we were unable to verify that you own (the account). To ensure that we’re not compromising the security of this account, we can’t yet return it to you.”
“I know I am the one associated with the account and I don’t understand why it didn’t believe me,” Fahey says.
The Google email did offer another shot at recovery, saying, “Can you provide additional information to verify that you own this account? If so please visit our account recovery form and submit another request…(If you’re unsure about specific dates, that’s okay; give your best guess).”
Fahey did try again. And again.
He kept getting the same rejection.
“It became a game, a game to me it’s like, really? You’re not going to allow me to access my own email account?” Fahey recalls, with mounting frustration. “I was yelling at the screen.”
Which, of course, did no good. He realized that trying to reason with a computer was ultimately futile, as it was only going to deliver programmed responses based on an unwavering algorithm. No amount of missions to the moon or guesses about dates could boost his credibility.
However, Fahey was determined.
“I’m not going to let the computer win. It’s me. I know who I am. I never doubted that,” Fahey said.
His next move? He contacted 7 On Your Side. We contacted Google. The company said its account recovery system is designed to make sure hackers don’t use the resets to hijack customers’ accounts.
Google said, “We know how frustrating it can be when someone isn’t able to access their email, photos, or other information in their accounts. We’ve built tools to make account recovery as efficient as possible while also ensuring users’ data stays safe and secure, and we’re constantly working to improve them.”
Turns out the password resets are a leading entry-way for hackers to take over email and other online accounts. However, after our inquiries, Google did unlock Fahey’s account. He says the email letting him back in looked blissful.
“It had balloons and rainbows I think,” Fahey recalls. “…solved in less than four hours. That is so incredible. Thank you so much.”
Here’s a link to a Google blog about the security issue.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.