Recovering your Hotmail account

About two and a half weeks ago, I got a weird email from my wife’s (hereafter known as Katie) Hotmail account. Feeling quietly confident that she wouldn’t be sending me emails in German that were apparently trying to get me to click on a link, I gave her a call to let her know her account had been hacked. Turns out a few other people had told her the same thing and so she was heading home to change her password. It’s fair to say things turned crap pretty soon after this, here’s our experience.

Step 1: Hotmail sends an email to your secondary account with a verification code

When Katie went to log in there was a screen saying ‘It looks like someone else is using this account. We will send a verification email to your nominated account. Just type the code from this email into the box below and you can regain access’.
Clearly this is genius, and as I’m the person with the nominated account I waited for the email with the verification to arrive…and I waited…and I waited some more. If you’ve ever had to change your password on something, or you use internet banking, you’ll know these verification emails usually arrive within about 10 seconds. After half an hour, I got Katie to try again…then again after another 20 minutes. Nothing.

Step 2: Prove your identity

There is also an option to fill in a form that proves that you are the legitimate owner. Again, genius. The form asks you all the normal questions, but also asks you to list the subjects of your recent emails, as well as the addresses of people you have recently emailed. At first blush this makes sense, after all who else would know the subjects of your emails. But in reality, if you haven’t used the account for a couple of days, or if a lot of your emails are replies to other people’s emails…how the hell are you going to remember what the subjects were? How much tolerance is built in? How many of you (without taking a peak) can say what the subjects of emails that you sent 3 days ago were? How many of you actually know people’s email address off by heart? Most email systems autofill these when you start typing, so it’s become like remembering people’s mobile phone numbers…you don’t have to because the machine does it for you.
But don’t panic. After all, this is Microsoft…a multimillion dollar company. They will have thought of all of this and built in tolerances accordingly. Just fill in the form, and tomorrow you’ll be back into your account.

Step 3: Wait 24 hours…then be told that you haven’t proven you are you

OK…so the email verification never arrived, and now their system doesn’t believe that you are the legitimate owner of your own account. Just to be clear, the system that was apparently sufficiently lax as to allow your account to be hacked by a complete stranger…is now saying it won’t let you back into your own email account.

Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3…twice.

By this stage we are getting furious. Katie uses her Hotmail account for a lot of her business stuff, so it’s really important to get those contact details back from her account. In desperation I actually started scouring the internet for help. After 2 hours of being bounced from the form we had already filled in…to a series of FAQ’s…to a ‘help Forum’. I was starting to feel like one of those old people who say ‘I just want to talk to a real person!’
So I did the next best thing and sent a snarky tweet to @MicrosoftHelps (Microsoft Support’s twitter account). The next day I got a reply from them, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing they escalated our case to a ‘moderator’. At last! Clearly this was going to be the turning point…God bless Social Media!

Step 5: Abandon all hope

Ahh yes…I may have been a bit too quick on the ‘God bless social media’ thing (actually in truth, @microsofthelps were really good…it’s just the rest of Microsoft that was freaking useless). After a week of filling in the same forms (because clearly after two weeks Katie’s memory of the subjects of her emails was going to be better) and trying to convince Hotmail that Katie really is the owner of her own account. We were given a final notice that we had not proved that Katie was the real owner, so we could not get access to the account…but hey ‘Why don’t you set up a new Hotmail account…and this time be really careful with your password.’
Well there’s an idea…and here’s another idea…why don’t you go F$&# yourself?! How about you develop some security systems that actually prevent this from happening? If you can’t do that (and I appreciate it’s very difficult), then why don’t you implement some systems that actually allow the legitimate owners of the account to gain access to it? And if you can’t do either of these things, how about you don’t patronise people by saying ‘hey just set up another account’? Because sometimes people have over 10 years worth of correspondences and contacts and you can’t just get that back by starting a new account, you human paraquat!

Some advice

So after two and a half weeks of trying, we have finally given up. After over 10 years of being a loyal customer, Katie has set up a Gmail account…and all because Hotmail’s systems are so inadequate and their customer service has been so poor.
I realise that complaining about the customer service for a product that I’ve never paid for is pretty much a ‘first world problem’, but you know what? I don’t care. I’ve been nice, I’ve done everything they’ve asked, I have held fast to my belief that if you just do the right thing, then the system will do the right thing. But the system hasn’t done the right thing, it has strung me along for two and half weeks, and then dumped me on my arse (and I had more than enough of that during my teenage years from any number of girls!)

So here’s some advice for Hotmail:
Fix your systems.
Improve your customer service.

And here’s some advice for all of you:
Set up a Gmail account and transfer all of your contacts over there.
And if you you’re trying to get in contact with Katie…don’t send anything to her Hotmail account.