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Here’s what to do when using two-factor authentication and losing your phone

“953905 is your one-time password. Do not share it with anyone.”

If you’ve ever received a text message like this from your bank, cable or Amazon, use two-factor authentication to secure your online accounts. Good job.

However, if you’ve never seen one of these before, it’s worth fixing. In addition to using good passwords from the start, two-factor authentication – or 2FA – is one of the best ways to ensure that your accounts do not fall into the wrong hands. Think of it as an extra layer of security, one that forces you to prove your identity by sending a code to a device that only the right item will have access to. Often it means our phones. And take it from me: it can be expensive to forget to set it up.

Two years ago, someone accessed my Airbnb account and managed to book three different stays in Wroclaw, Poland, for the same four-day stretch in early August. Total cost for me: $ 863.70, all for a ride I had never wanted to take on. (That said, Wroclaw sounds like a nice place to spend some time.)

Airbnb eventually sorted everything out, but nothing would have needed sorting at all if I had turned on 2FA in the first place. That way, the hacker / hackers would have needed a special code sent to my phone before they could even think about accessing my account. Yet 2FA still comes with a catch: Because many of us use our phones to verify our identity, we can all too easily find ourselves distorting when something happens to these devices.

“I use [2FA] for several important websites, including access to banking and other financial needs, so my phone has become more important all the time, ”wrote reader Hobe Darbyshire in an email to Help Desk. “What happens if I lose my phone or it gets stolen?”

In situations like these, it can be hard not to think about the worst case scenarios. Our advice? If you find yourself facing this problem, take a deep breath and complete the following steps.

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