A step-by-step guide on how to delete an online account you no longer use.
Just about everything we do online requires us to submit an email address or create an account.
It seems unavoidable to give up protection of our identity online in exchange for the information and services we want — downloading apps, reading articles, shopping online, etc.
But we accept this and move on. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Leaving digital accounts, app downloads, and email sign-ups live but inactive can put your online privacy and data at risk of being misused or stolen.
Fear not. We created this guide to help you find old accounts you no longer need, deactivate or delete them, and protect yourself from hackers.
How to find old online accounts
Resurrect old emails The easiest way to uncover long-forgotten accounts is to use the search functionality in your email provider. This includes your other email accounts as well.
Search for terms like “welcome,” “new account,” “password,” “confirm email,” “validate account,” “thank you for joining,” or “thanks for signing up.” Don’t forget to search for your favorite usernames.
Make sure to go back a few months or years to see what pops up. If you use Gmail, you can enter this in the search box: [before:2017/01/01] or any date you wish in the yyyy/mm/dd format in combination with the words above.
You can also use the search operator [older_than:] and add whatever value you want [4y], [8m], [90d].
Look up your username in search engines Type your favorite usernames into Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, and DuckDuckGo to see where they appear online.
Do a search for your name (with quotation marks around it to contain results) and email addresses as well.
You may want to create a Google Alert for your username or proper name to see if any obscure results pop up.
Try online repositories and privacy sites
Sometimes it takes an unfortunate event like a data breach to find your usernames or old accounts. Sites like Avast Hack Check offer a robust database of hacked websites and stolen log-in details. Just sign up and Hack Check will alert you if your email address shows up in any known lists of security data breaches or other types of illegal online activity. An alert could jog your memory about a forgotten service associated with that alternate email address.
Check saved logins for passwords Before clicking that “Forgot password” link, you might find long-lost passwords in your internet browser. In Avast Secure Browser > Settings > Passwords > Saved Passwords
In Google Chrome > Settings > Passwords > Saved Passwords
In Safari > Preferences > Passwords
In Firefox > Options > Security > Saved Passwords > Show Passwords
In Microsoft Edge > Settings > Passwords & Autofill > Manage Passwords
In Internet Explorer > Settings > View Advanced Settings > Manage Passwords
Use a password manager? Check those too.
How to close old online accounts
If you find an old account that you can’t get into, contact the site administrator and ask for access. Be persistent with your request since companies may not provide you with account access without the appropriate email address.
Even if you haven’t opened an online account in a while, primary and secondary brokers (i.e. Intelius and Spokeo) aggregate information from publicly available records, including social media, and make them available on “people search” sites. Check out this free opt-out guide which DeleteMe provides.
Remember… European Union citizens have the right to be “forgotten” thanks to the EU-enacted law stating search engines must remove results from a query in some cases in which the person or company named in the results requests it.
Other easy ways to protect yourself against hackers
If you can’t delete your online accounts outright but only deactivate them, change the name and other personal details attached to them.
Consider creating a secondary email address for junk mail or if a service requires one for a one-off purchase.