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Q&A: Free email means security is our job

By Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

QUESTION: My Gmail address was hacked and the hacker changed my password. As a result, I can’t access my account’s e-mail or some personal information, such as tax returns.

I can’t prove to Google that I’m “me” and not the hacker because I couldn’t answer automated security questions such as “What date did you open your Google account?”

To make things worse, there’s no phone number listed to call Google. I sent a certified letter to Google CEO Larry Page, but I haven’t received a response.

It seems to me if a company provides a service that handles critical and personal information, it should have a more responsible response. What should I do?

—Bill Zani, Miami

ANSWERS: Because free online services have become important to us, we tend to forget that they come with no security guarantees and, in most cases, no telephone technical support. Security is our job.

First, read the Federal Trade Commission’s list of what to do if your identity has been stolen (see

Second, set up a new password. Go to, check the box next to “My account has been compromised” and click the “account recovery form” link. Fill in your email address, and click “submit.”

On the next page, choose either “Answer my security question” or “Get a password reset link at my recovery e-mail.” You should have specified both the security question and the back-up email when you set up the account.

Either choice takes you to a page where you can change your password. Pick a string of letters and numbers that’s hard to guess; don’t use names or real words.

When you regain control of the account, remove sensitive personal information such as tax returns.


Q: I have a Hewlett-Packard laptop that occasionally displays vertical red or pink lines on the screen. If I restart the PC, the lines usually go away and don’t reappear for days or weeks. What’s the problem?

—Ed Velazquez, Fernandina Beach, Fla.

A: It’s probably caused by a gradual failure of the graphics card that runs the laptop’s LCD screen. Or there could be a flaw in the screen’s electronics.

You can determine which it is by connecting your laptop to an external computer monitor. If the external monitor also displays vertical lines, the graphics card is to blame. If the external monitor doesn’t display vertical lines when the laptop screen does, the laptop’s LCD screen is at fault.

Ask a computer repair shop whether the cost of the repairs exceeds the price of a new laptop.

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