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Issue #705: January 24-30, 2021

Geek Note: I swear to you, my dear Geeks, that the appearance of the below question at this particular time is a mere coincidence, and was in no way motivated by anything you may have seen in the news recently about Facebook locking accounts, or anything of that nature.  In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, this question arrived in my e-mail box on December 14, 2020, and it just happened to come up in the normal rotation for use in this week’s issue. Could I have skipped it?  Sure, I could have.  However, regardless of the seemingly politically-related optics, this is nothing more than a legitimate question, deserving of a legitimate response.  Geek’s honor!

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 Q: I’m locked out of Facebook. When I attempt to log on, it says “Recent activity may have affected you accounts security, so we’ve locked it. We’ll walk you through a few steps to confirm your identity and help you access your account.” At this point I choose Continue to do a security check. I then choose the option “Get a code sent to your email.” I could ask three friends to get a code to send to me, but I don’t know how to contact them except through Facebook. Facebook then sends a code to an email address that is no longer active, even though it recognizes my current email address as my user id. I then get a message that an error occurred while sending this message. Apparently, I have no way of contacting Facebook directly. Help!

 – Dennis W.
Odessa, Texas

A: This is a good lesson in maintaining contact information for accounts.  Your issue is with Facebook, but this could just as easily have been a banking institution, credit card company, cell phone provider, or any one of dozens and dozens of companies with which people typically do business in the cyber age.  We expect them to keep access to our account secure.  It would fly in the face of that precept if it was in any way easy to recover account information.  By design, it is supposed to be difficult, and you, as the end-user are supposed to be the only person who has the key to unlock the door.  Your unique identity, or something that uniquely identifies you, is that key.

In the case of Facebook, they do provide multiple ways to recover your account.  Within your question, you said “I choose the option ‘Get a code sent to your email.’”  Knowing that you have no access to that e-mail, that would seem to be a poor choice of paths to attempt recovery.  You also said that you could ask three friends to get a code to send to you.  I submit that if you have such friends, and the only way you have to contact them is via Facebook, these are not people who you know well enough to be considered trusted contacts for such an operation.  Regardless, that option is off the table, since it’s a circular logic problem (I can’t get into Facebook, so I need to contact someone via Facebook, but I can’t get into Facebook…)

Facebook recommends that you “Try logging in with an alternate email of phone number”.  You probably have no idea of what information was gathered and stored about you over time.  Facebook remembers everything, and you might be able to capitalize on that to regain your access.  According to a Facebook help page on this topic, they recommend that you “Make sure to use a computer or mobile phone that you have previously used to log into your Facebook account.” And then “Go to” and follow the instructions.

Unfortunately, as you’ve discovered, there is not such a thing as a customer service phone number that you can call to resolve this kind of problem.  Even if there was, the human representative would be faced with the same problem of uniquely identifying you, and Facebook doesn’t collect enough information to identify individuals on that scale.  Your best bet is to go to Facebook’s help feature, which you can access whether you’re logged-in or not, and search for the section that covers problems logging-in, and account recovery.  If everything I’ve mentioned in this column just utterly fails for you, you might just have to abandon that account and start a new one.  If you do, I hope you will go into it armed with the knowledge of what can happen when you don’t maintain your personal contact information!  Good luck.

2 Responses to “Issue #705: January 24-30, 2021”

  • Baldman says:

    They said in USA Today that the were having a problem with this and were working on it. It’s Facebook that’s got the problem. I love your articles every week so keep up the good work. H. Simmons

    • The Geek says:

      There was also a recent “accidental” mass log-out of Facebook users. They said it was unintentional, but that would be a good way to force everybody that relies on their device keeping them logged in to recall and use their credentials. I can’t help but wonder how many people couldn’t access the service again once they were logged out?

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