Always Carry Two-Step Verification Codes With You for Your Google Account

Two-step verification is great. However, if you accidentally lose your phone and don’t have multiple backup codes, it can make it a little harder to find your device on the fly. You can get backup codes whether you are using SMS or the Authenticator app to verify (you really have to use the Authenticator app ), and carrying them around can help you get out of your predicament if your phone runs out of MIA.

I’ll tell you about my weekend:

Since I was 18, when I bought my first cell phone, I carry it with me every day. Every day until Sunday because I managed (for the first time) to lose my phone while logging out of Lyft on Saturday night.

We were about an hour’s drive from home when I realized that I had apparently dropped my relatively new Note 8 on the car’s floorboard and not in my purse as we headed out. Our driver left just a few minutes ago, so I thought we were hitting a particularly rewarding time frame when he might find him and not the vile passenger.

The phone was in silent mode, so the call did not help much. I also have all of my notifications hidden, so even a text message on the phone won’t provide information to whoever found it.

Then we went to search for it using Google security on my boyfriend’s phone. It’s a great tool (found at security.google.com if you find yourself in the same situation) that you can use to track your lost phone, make it keep ringing for 5 minutes, erase it, or leave a “Call this number” message … lock screen.

It was a great plan with one fatal flaw: my Google account had two-step verification set up via SMS and I didn’t have any backup codes.

Since I had a two-step setup for my Google account, and my boyfriend’s phone was not a “trusted device,” he needed a code he was sending me so that I could log into my account and track my phone. It provides security, but without a phone, I couldn’t receive an SMS at all and log into my account. I was blocked.

We ended up going home, I logged into an account on my trusty laptop, and then I posted a note with my boyfriend’s number on the lock screen. A few hours later, I blew it up with a constant ringing at full volume, and my Lyft driver called us and told us that he had found the phone and hid it in my glove box a few hours before.

Considering that he was an hour’s drive from our apartment, that meant that the beginning of our Sunday was a trip to meet him in the distant parking lot of the grocery store to pick him up.

The situation could have been much worse (I have a phone!), But it could have been better. If I could leave this note right after we realized the phone was lost, my Lyft driver would probably see it when he found the phone, and we could coordinate while everyone was around. I could also spare myself a few hours of panic.

Luckily, we were only an hour’s drive from home. If we were on vacation further away, things could be much more complicated. In my particular situation, I think a few Lyft emails would get my phone back. However, if it were truly stolen, I would not have been able to erase it until I went back to my computer. And if I didn’t have a computer that was already a “trusted” device, I would be engulfed in a whirlwind of pain.

And so I recommend carrying a few backup codes with you just for this case (and also stowing a few to a safe place at home). You can create them by going to the two-step verification menu in your Google account and choosing “Backup Codes”.

I now have a few codes in my wallet, written on the back of a modest business card. You don’t want to tag your paper with Google Codes in case your wallet is stolen instead of your phone, but jotting down a few words on a business card, receipt, etc. And hiding it in a safe place can save you in a situation like this.

Bottom line: don’t be like me. It wasn’t fun.

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