How to recover an iCloud account when a factor for two-factor authentication goes missing

Apple has a last-ditch effort when you’ve lost it all, but it’s not guaranteed.

icloud high sierra 2fa icloud

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is highly recommend with your Apple ID, especially for iCloud or iTunes and App Store purchases, there’s one drawback: you need access to a second factor, or you might wind up losing everything associated with your account.

Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem. The second factor for Apple’s system is always at least one Mac or one iOS device plus a phone number (one that receives either text messages or voice calls, so a landline is an option). It would seem an unlikely scenario in which you lost all of that at once.

You can also add other phone numbers as backups, which is what my wife and I have done with each other’s cell numbers. Even if we lost access to our devices and our own numbers, we could still log in. (Telephone numbers can be reassigned, and hackers sometimes socially engineer or otherwise shift them for identity theft or worse purposes.)

But it happened to Macworld reader Edgar, who writes in about his problems after switching away from the iPhone to a different platform:

I need to get into my iCloud account to access photos, notes, contacts, etc. but had two-factor authentication enabled. I’m being prompted to enter the code when I login online but the phone lines have been switched, so I don’t have access to the 2FA code on iPhone.

He may be in a pickle, although having the password to his account should help. Apple offers a semi-automated account-recovery process that hinges on how much information you can provide. The more information, the faster the process goes. Human beings are involved to make it difficult or impossible to automate the recovery for malicious ends, but Apple also may decide it can’t verify your identity well enough, even if you own the account, to give you access back.

Ask Mac 911

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Every question won’t be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon