Rob Freeman, Click's very own Mr Fixit, troubleshoots your PC problems and helps you get the most out of your computer. This week he looks at how to prevent getting locked out of your webmail account.
If you use a webmail service - such as Microsoft's Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail - it is probably fairly important to your day-to-day communications.
If you have been using them for a long time, you may have stored a fair bit of crucial information on there, and certainly some favourite messages you want to keep.
Now imagine you wake up one morning and you cannot log in. Wrong password, it says.
You wrack your brains and try a few different combinations. It does not work.
You try on a different computer. Still you cannot get in. You try to reset the password another way, but it was such a long time ago since you set the e-mail address up, you cannot remember any of the security questions.
You are now faced with the prospect of never getting access to this information again.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened this week to a friend of mine. What was more sinister in her case is that someone had maliciously taken over her e-mail account and started to send messages to her contacts which had the potential to damage her reputation, and possibly her business.
I have spent the last week getting this sorted out for her, but it would have been a great deal easier if she had taken a few simple precautions.
The first, is the most important. Keep your password secret. If you think someone might know your password, change it.
How many of you make your password something really simple so you do not forget it? A common password to use is simply the word "password".
But maybe you use numbers instead, in which case your password is probably your birthdate, or maybe just "123". Perhaps you want to be extra secure, so you make it a bit longer, "123,456".
Another very common password is "Liverpool".
You should not use any of those as passwords. They are all too easily guessed by someone else.
There is more bad news. You should have a different password for every site.
And if you have trouble remembering passwords, here is something you may want to try to make it easier to remember and still have a different password for everywhere. Think of any word, actually let us use "Liverpool" as the example, but I am going to shorten it and replace "ool" with 001.
This is your common word. Now you make up passwords by adding additional letters to the beginning and end of your common word. And the other letters are associated to the website you are visiting.
So if I am at the Click website and I need to invent a password, it might be:
clicklvrp001bbc or clicklvrp001tips
You can even write portions of this down to help you remember, just leave out your common word. So this would just be clickbbc, and all you have to remember is what is in the middle.
But do not tell anyone else how you construct your passwords, and do not let anyone know your common word.
Another option is to use the first letters from a phrase.
Now for a quick look at the information you need to get back into your webmail account in case you should forget your password.
In Microsoft's Hotmail, you will find these settings in Options > View > Edit Personal information
You need to fill in a simple question and answer, and some location information, including your postcode.
The Yahoo screen is in Options > Account Information.
Yahoo similarly takes a note of the location information you used when you created the account, but the most important security information it uses is your birthday. Or at least, the date you said was your birthday.
There are many people who do not use their real birthdates as part of password security, because this is not secure information.
Loads of people know your birthday. So we make up a date. If you do this with Yahoo, it is really important you remember what you put because you cannot change it later, and you cannot see it once it is added.
If you forget your login ID, you can have that sent to you as well, but only if you have filled in an alternative e-mail address.
Lastly, onto Google Mail.
In Google you need that question and answer setting, as well as an alternative e-mail address.
It is really important you fill this in, because if you do not give an alternative e-mail address, then you have to wait five days before you can use the secret question option to unlock your account.
My tip here: if you use a work e-mail address as your alternative, remember to keep it up-to-date if you change jobs. The last thing you want is to be resetting your password, only to find the unlock details are going to somewhere you do not work any more.
So if you use any of those webmail services, or any other online systems, there is lots we have not mentioned. Check that you have got all the details you need to get into them, if the worst happens and you forget your password.
The time to act to protect your e-mail accounts is now. If you wait until something goes wrong, it may be too late. And keep your password secret.
Next time, we are going to look at how you can back up your webmail, just in case the worst happens.