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Friday, March 22, 2013

Yahoo! Mail Is Garbage

I've been around since the dawn of the Internet -- I remember getting lists of FTP sites back in college and connecting to them so I could download the latest scene demos, games, etc. Before that, I even used dial-up modems and BBS services, including connecting via a Commodore 64 using a 300 baud modem. Ah, good times, watching 40x25 text characters come over line by line. I remember using Netscape Navigator 1.0 (then 2.x, 3.x, 4.x), and I remember when Yahoo! was the search engine. Then things changed, mostly for the better, but some companies just failed to really keep with the times. Yahoo! is one of them as far as I'm concerned, and my latest experience merely confirms the fact.

Given my long and sordid history with the Internet, it's no surprise that I have accounts with practically every major instant messaging service: Yahoo!, Hotmail/MSN/Windows Live, Google, AIM, ICQ, and even Trillian (not to mention Facebook and Twitter accounts, a MySpace account that I haven't used in several years, etc.) Almost all of those accounts come with email, but I currently only use three email addresses regularly: my work email, my Comcast email, and Gmail. My mom unfortunately doesn't like computers much and gets confused every time she's asked to switch to something new/better/different.

When we first got her a PC, she used the rather horrible service Juno. It was free, but it was so problematic that when we finally convinced her to pay for broadband I had to celebrate the demise of her Juno email address. After Juno, she switched to Yahoo! Mail, and sadly things have only been marginally better. They've revamped the interface several times over the years, often slowing things down and always confusing her (she's in her late 70s, so changes don't come easily). Then earlier this year her computer got a virus, which I wrote about here, and that required a good ten or more hours of remote troubleshooting to fix. Now, three months later her Yahoo! account has been compromised; my guess is that virus logged her keystrokes and it just took a while for anyone to get around to trying it out. And this is where we get to today's story.

Things started with an email from my mom to all of her Yahoo! Mail contacts, with the clearly scam subject: "Trouble Trip Help......([Account Name])". Here's what the message said:

I'm sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it's because of the situation of things right now.

I’m with family on vacation in Manila Philippines and a lot of crap has been spewing. We got mugged last night in an alley by a gang of thugs on our way back from shopping, one of them had a knife poking my neck for almost two minutes and everything we had on us including my cell phone, credit cards were all stolen,quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for us but looking on the bright side we weren't seriously hurt or injured and we are still alive so that is whats important. I've reported to the cops here and canceled all our cards,it appeared I had acted quickly enough or they almost would have succeeded in cleaning out my bank account. I'm really having some difficulties clearing our hotel bills and also need to pick up a voucher ticket at the counter for us to catch a flight back home in a couple of hours.

I was wondering if you could please loan me (2,000 USD) money pending when we get things straighten out and I promise to refund as soon as we arrive home safely.

Write me back and let me know how soon you can get it to us asap.

Yeah, I'll buy that for a dollar.... My sister-in-law was kind enough to help her regain access, which probably took far more effort than it should. She changed the password to the account to something you wouldn't be able to just go out and guess (unless you think a 20 character password with numbers, symbols, and letters is something you could hack?), and my mom got back into her email. Sadly, the hackers were jerks and not only did they send out the "ransom" message but they also deleted all her email, sent mail, and contacts. Ouch!

I had emailed Yahoo! support to see if they could restore her deleted email and contacts, but hadn't received a useful response yet (just a form letter saying I should contact support -- thanks, that's what I did!) That's when things went from bad to worse. Earlier this week, she got locked out of her account again. Going to the web page where you can reset the password, we got the helpful message: "Your password can’t be reset online. For security reasons, you need contact Yahoo! Customer Care to help you reset your password." So I contacted customer care and jumped through some hoops, only to receive this email (I listed my email as the secondary contact):
Hello [Name],

Thank you for contacting Yahoo!.

I have analyzed your message, and it is best addressed by our Yahoo! Accounts team. To protect account security, this team requires specific information about your Yahoo! account that you provided during sign-up or when you last updated your account. I will need to ask you to contact Yahoo! Accounts team directly to provide the necessary information to resolve your issue.

Note: Please do not reply to this message. Submitting an email through the form is the best way to get your answer.
Please visit Yahoo! Privacy Center for information regarding Yahoo!'s Privacy Policy.
Also, please read the help article about registering a Yahoo! ID.
For additional help with Yahoo! products, please visit the Yahoo Help pages.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo!.

[Name Withheld]
Yahoo! Customer Care
So basically, I went to Yahoo!'s support page to fill out a form telling them (in some detail) what was going on, and in response they sent me an email telling me I need to go to the same form and submit that for help! And even better, in their email they tell me not to respond as I should go through the form; so I did (again), with additional information and referenced the previous incident number. One day later, I got the SAME. EXACT. RESPONSE. Welcome to the land of recursion, which comes from the root word "recurse"; that means to curse again, obviously, because that's what I've been doing with Yahoo! today.

Turning to Google, I searched for the password reset error and even came up with a phone number for the Yahoo! Verification Department. (The number, if you're wondering, is (866) 850-4303.) I called, I waited on hold for ten minutes (being repeatedly informed of their higher than normal call volume -- but if the call volume is always high, why is it "higher than normal"?), and then I finally got put in contact with a support person.

I explained the situation, I referred to both incident numbers, I explained that my mom is 70+ years old, currently on an airplane, and I'm trying to get the situation resolved so that we can restore her email messages -- which in order to do you need to be logged in to Yahoo! and send a request within 10 days. See where this is going? After explaining several things to the lady, she then told me she needs to speak with the account owner. Being the honest type that I am, I said that I am not the owner but I can answer any necessary questions. "No, I need to speak with the account owner for security purposes." I also asked a very pertinent question: if you lock an account for 24 hours with three successive incorrect login attempts, and if this account has been compromised in the past, what is going to prevent someone from "griefing" the legitimate owner by simply trying three times to log in ever week or so? "I'm sorry, I can't answer that question without speaking to the account owner."

So to recap: Yahoo! automatically locks you out of the account for 24 hours after three incorrect login attempts in a row. The account was compromised and all of the email and contacts were deleted. In order to even try to recover your deleted email and contacts, you have to be logged in, and you have to fill out the appropriate form within 10 days. Anyone that feels the urge can get your account locked by trying to log in with the wrong password. If you go through the Yahoo! Accounts form and request help, they say they can't unlock your account until after 12 hours (or more?), and they apparently can't stop the account from being locked out repeatedly anyway.

This is an actively hostile system, compounded by horrible support with an unwillingness to help. Long story short, I'm now telling my mom that her account is dead unless she can get through to support and deal with their useless support personnel. Whether she can get help or not, I'm also going to tell her to ditch Yahoo! and go with a better service, likely Gmail. I can't say that I like everything that Google does, but after the fiasco of Yahoo!'s "support", it can't possibly get any worse. Oh, and did I mention that my mom has had issues probably at least twice a month where Yahoo! fails to work properly for a couple hours -- server problems most likely. Why would anyone trust these people?

At least I received an auto-response for my incident asking me what I thought of the customer service experience. I detailed my displeasure with their lack of help and concluded with the fitting epitaph to this whole thing: "Thanks...for nothing."

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1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately I do use Yahoo and have for many years so it would be a pain to change. I do have a gmail account also and feel like it is much more secure. I have it set-up so that every time someone tries to access my email from an unknown computer, Google sends me a text message with a code to type in. It has worked well for me. Eventually I may switch over to Google but I have so many emails on Yahoo that it would be a lot of work to close the account completely.