Bay Area man's 25-year-old email account disappears when resetting password

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
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The San Francisco resident said he had an SBC Global account for more than a quarter century, storing years worth of files and linking to dozens of online accounts. Suddenly it was gone -- and AT&T said nothing could be done to get it back.

SAN FRANCSICO (KGO) -- In today's digital age, we've come to depend on our email accounts -- not just to send messages, but to maintain files, contacts and link to our online accounts.

So, what would you do if your email account suddenly disappeared... for good?

It happened to one Bay Area man -- and it came as a complete shock. The San Francisco resident said he had an SBC Global account for more than a quarter century, storing years worth of files and linking to dozens of online accounts. Suddenly it was gone -- and AT&T said nothing could be done to get it back.

"Gone, forever," Stanley Douglass said. He couldn't believe what just happened.

"I felt totally, like, kicked to the curb," he said.

MORE: Password woes plague San Francisco man after getting locked out of Google account

He just tried to log into his SBC Global email account, and it prompted him to reset his password -- but locked him out instead. He contacted AT&T, but an agent told him the account was gone.

"I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about recouping your email. It's lost forever," Douglass said he was told.

"It threw me for a loop... I liken it to your house catching on fire and all of a sudden the things you thought were going to be yours forever, they're gone," Douglass said.

VIDEO: How to build a safer password that's easy to remember

Douglass had just lost 25 years worth of files, photos, records and contacts stored in that email account.

"Invoices, receipts, documentation, various important communication... that you have with individuals, family members -- gone forever without the ability to get them back," he said.

The email also linked him to his online accounts with banks, businesses and government agencies.

"You have to call each of these businesses and attempt to change your email," he said.

It wasn't easy. Social Security, for example, required him to send a written statement and verify his identity, which took weeks.

AT&T could not explain why his account disappeared -- but Douglass says there was no one to complain to. It was a free service, with no guarantees.

"That's a serious concern that I think every person who has an email account needs to consider," he said. "We buy into these various forms of technology without really giving real consideration to what could or might happen..."

7 On Your Side told AT&T what happened. Immediately Douglass got a call.

"With a few keystrokes he was able to recover my account," he said.

A manager at AT&T was able to restore his account after all. AT&T did not say why he was told it was gone forever, but tells 7 On Your Side:

"From time to time it is necessary... to temporarily lock an account if we detect attempts at unauthorized access. We have apologized to Mr. Douglass and worked with him to restore access to his email account."

"Oh man, it felt great. I had about 20 million emails that were unread... I was very grateful to 7 On Your Side," Douglass said

MORE: How to slim down your inbox before Google implements data storage limits

Douglass says he now has backed up all the information in his email account and established a second email account with Google as another backup. Our thanks to AT&T for recovering his information.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

7OYS's consumer hotline is a free consumer mediation service for those in the San Francisco Bay Area. We assist individuals with consumer-related issues; we cannot assist on cases between businesses, or cases involving family law, criminal matters, landlord/tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please review our FAQ here. As a part of our process in assisting you, it is necessary that we contact the company / agency you are writing about. If you do not wish us to contact them, please let us know right away, as it will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.

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