Now Is a Good Time to Update Your Recovery Email Addresses

You know those “emergency” email addresses you can use to get into your email and other accounts in case you're locked out? Make sure they're up-to-date. 
Man working on laptop at night in home office
Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

With an abundance of password managers, browsers, and mobile operating systems all making it easy, and more apps adopting fingerprint or face recognition support, logging into our numerous accounts is more straightforward and seamless than ever.

It's important not to get complacent though—whether it's through moving to new devices or because of shady activity that hasn't been authorized, plenty of users still find themselves locked out of their accounts on a regular basis. If that should happen, you're going to have to fall back on the various recovery processes implemented by these accounts, which normally involve a backup email address.

Keeping this email address up to date and secure is vital—not just in case you need to gain access to a locked account, but also to guard against other people trying to reset your login credentials. If this backup email isn't valid, or has been compromised, you're opening yourself up to numerous potential problems.

Checking your backup email address and other recovery details only takes a minute or two, and one day you might be glad you did. We'll guide you through the process for the major accounts you might well be signed up to.


Apple provides easy access to your Apple ID information through iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, but for now we'll focus on the web interface. Log in to your Apple ID account here, and you can get at all sorts of details, from your account password to your legacy contact (the person or people you want to take charge of your account after you die).

Click Account Security to see how your account is protected against unauthorized access. You should have set up two-factor authentication here, and we'd encourage you to do so if you haven't already. You can also add a trusted phone number, which will be pinged when a new device tries to access your Apple account—again it's important to make sure that this is current.

 Check the notification email linked to your Apple account.

Apple via David Nield

From the main screen, you can click Apple ID to view and change the primary email address associated with your Apple account, which may be (but doesn't have to be) the email you've registered with the iCloud service. This is where primary communications about your account will be sent, including notifications about logins and billing.

You can also click on Notification Email to check or modify the email address that's used if you can't get at your primary one for whatever reason. As Apple says, it's used "to send you important account and security-related information" if required. Make sure this is one that's in regular use and is itself well protected against security breaches.


Head here in a web browser to start the process of checking up on the backup information that Google has on file should you ever need to gain access to a locked account. There's a wealth of data shown on the opening page, from how much Google storage you're using up to how much information Google is allowed to collect on you.

Click Security and there's a Signing in to Google section at the top: This is where you can change your password, turn on two-step authentication (something you should do), and more. Further down the page is a list of all the devices you're currently signed in to, which can help you spot suspicious activity.

Google uses three pieces of information to verify your identity.

Google via David Nield

You'll see a box labeled “Ways that we can verify that it's you.” This is where all the key information for recovering accounts is held: a phone number and an email address that Google can utilize to verify your identify, as well as security questions that might also be asked if you're requesting access to a locked Google account (pick a question with an answer that you will never forget but that no one else will ever guess).

Click Recovery email to make sure this particular piece of information is right up to date—you can change it if it's not. Make sure this isn't your main Gmail address, but one that you use regularly. Before a recovery email address can be added, a verification code will be sent to it to prove you have access.


You can check up on your Microsoft account settings by heading here on the web. Everything from your current app subscriptions to the people in your family group can be managed from this screen, so it's worth bookmarking if you make regular use of a Microsoft account with Windows, Office, Xbox, or anything else.

You'll see on the opening screen a list of all the devices where you're currently logged in with your Microsoft account, and you can log out of any of these devices if you need to. Follow the Security link and then Security dashboard to get to every security option linked to your Microsoft account—the option we want is Advanced security options.

Editing the backup email address for a Microsoft account.

Microsoft via David Nield

At the top of the next screen, you can turn two-step authentication on or off—we recommend that you keep it on. Directly underneath this are the options Microsoft uses to prove you are who you say you are (if you happen to get locked out of your account, for example). These options include your recovery email address.

Click the Email a code heading to view or edit the email address that Microsoft uses as a backup, which should be different from your main Outlook email address. You can also turn on the Receive alerts toggle switch to get notified at this address whenever your Microsoft account is accessed on a new device and add a cell number as an additional way of getting back into a locked account.

Other Accounts

Of course, we can't take you through the process of checking your recovery email address and other details on every single digital account that you'll have access to, but these settings shouldn't be too hard to find—delve into the security options for each of your accounts and they'll probably be quite prominently displayed.

 In the case of an Amazon account, for example, if you pick Account & Lists from the top banner on the website and then choose Your Account, you're able to select Login & security to see all the relevant details: It's possible to specify both an email address and a cell phone number to use as forms of verification if they're needed.

Checking the details associated with an Amazon account.

Amazon via David Nield

It's also a good idea to check the various social media platforms that you've signed up to, and the recovery email addresses associated with these accounts as well. In the case of Twitter, for example, from the web homepage you can click the three dots inside a circle on the left, then Settings and privacy, then Your account and Account information to see all of the data that Twitter has on you—including the cell number and the backup email address associated with your Twitter account.

Not all accounts make use of an email address for account recovery and security purposes—some of them might ask you to verify your identify through a notification sent to an app on your phone, for example, or through a code sent over SMS—but where the option is available, we highly recommend checking that it's set correctly.

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