7

I am trying to add an alternate email address to my Gmail account but I cannot because Google says it's already in use. I can't find where it's in use and have been researching this for days.

The error message is

This email is already in use with a Google account

Error message reported @jeclarke on August 30, 2022

This email is already used with a Google Account

The article Alternate email address from Google Accounts Help doesn't help to solve this problem because it only provide general reference, it doesn't provide specific guidance about what to do when this error happens, it barely points to the following article.

The article Sign in to your Google Account with another email address also from Google Accounts Help doesn't help because it doesn't doesn't provide guidance about what to do when this error happens. It explains how to find the verification email but as I have never added this account as an altenate email address to a Google account, there isn't a verification email.

The question Gmail Alternate Username doesn't help because that question is about an alternate email created when the original username of the Gmail email address was changed.

The question How do I recover my Google account (or Gmail) password or username? doesn't help because the alternate email was never used as alternate email for a Google account.

I have being editing Google Docs documents anonymously but I not able to find them.

3
  • 1
    As of today, the error I see is "This email is already used with a Google Account". This didn't come up when I googled with quotes, so hopefully this will fix that.
    – jerclarke
    Aug 30, 2022 at 17:34
  • @jerclarke I don't think that comment are indexed. The best is to edit the question. Apr 8, 2023 at 13:55
  • In this specific case the questions was "hijacked" to post a answer that match the error message but might not be the OP's problem. As the OP has not returned in long time and have not commented the answers, rather than closing the question because doen't meet the quality standards, it was edited and converted in Community Wiki. Apr 8, 2023 at 13:58

3 Answers 3

17

I spent too much time trying to crack this and finally figured out a solution. This applies if you're in a very specific situation where all of these apply:

  • When you try to add an alternate email to your account, you get a message that "This address is already used with a google account".
  • When you enter your alternate email in the Google sign-in and choose "Forgot Password", it says "Couldn’t find your Google account".
  • You can't find any recent Google Docs where you were editing or commenting as an anonymous account. If these exist, it's possible this process might lose these edits, I'm not certain.

There are a number of questions on Google's support site from people in this predicament, most of them with very unhelpful answers. The best one contains the nugget of information that when you accept an invitation to edit that was sent to your alternate email, Google creates a "visitor session" and the existence of this visitor session can block you from adding it to your existing account. Unfortunately, Google's official support docs seem to be out of date and refer to UI elements that aren't there.

After much trial and error, I found a path to get rid of this visitor session so you can add your alternate email.

  1. Log in to your Google account.
  2. Find or create a Google Docs document that you own. Doesn't matter what the contents of the document are. Click Share and share it with your alternate email address, allowing editing.
  3. Either sign out of your Google account or open an incognito window. When the email arrives to your alternate address, open the link in the email (if you're using an incognito window, copy the link and paste it into the incognito session so it doesn't open in your regular window).
  4. You should now see the document with a button on the top right that says Sign Up To Edit (not the button to sign in). Click this button.
  5. You will see a form to create a new account. Enter your alternate email address and a password. You won't finish creating the account so the password doesn't really matter, but enter something you'll remember just in case anything goes wrong.
  6. When you submit this form, you should see a warning that you have an existing visitor session. Confirm that you wish to delete the visitor session.
  7. Don't continue with the sign-up process! Instead, return to your Google account and add your alternate email through there. You should now be able to do so successfully.
7
  • You're an absolute lifesaver! What a convoluted solution. Can't believe there's not a method of remediation directly from the "add alternate email" form/page.
    – Mrweiner
    Feb 14, 2022 at 22:18
  • Glad I could help! I knew I couldn't be the only person hitting this wall. Took me literal months to figure it out, so I'm glad I could save you some trouble. And yes, this is just extremely poor engineering and UI on Google's part. Feb 17, 2022 at 20:11
  • 1
    Worked for me Sep 15 2022! The exact steps weren't all documented, but the overall flow above is correct. This is an amazing win! Thank you so much for documenting what you found, it is priceless both to me personally and to the NGO I work for!!!
    – jerclarke
    Sep 15, 2022 at 15:31
  • FWIW that scary warning about losing access is some real BS! I really have trouble imagining anyone in this situation will lose access to anything meaningful from following the steps.
    – jerclarke
    Sep 15, 2022 at 15:31
  • 1
    Final thought: The bug in the Gmail system that causes this is about the error that shows when you enter your Alternate Email. It says "this email is already in use on another account" when it should instead say "this email already has visitor sessions open". If it told you the actual situation, and gave us the same power as creating an account does, this would be so easy to fix!!!
    – jerclarke
    Sep 15, 2022 at 15:32
5

I don't want to usurp @Ian Greenleaf Young's excellent answer, but I do have a substantially-updated answer below (and I don't have the rep here to post this as a comment)... so here goes...! Updates in italics.


Google is no longer showing any kind of error when you try to add an alternate email that is tangled up with a visitor session. Instead, the border of the form field for the alternate email merely blinks red when you click the add button. No explanation for why the email is not working.

As Ian says, you want to make sure you don't already have a Google account that's linked to your alternate email. How? Launch an incognito browser window and go to gmail.com. Enter your alternate email in the Google sign-in and choose "Forgot Password". If it says "Couldn’t find your Google account," then you don't have a Google account linked to that email.

After much trial and error, I found a path to get rid of this visitor session so you can add your alternate email.

  1. Log in to your Google account.
  2. Find or create a Google Docs document that you own. Doesn't matter what the contents of the document are. Click Share and share it with your alternate email address, allowing editing.
  3. Either sign out of your Google account or open an incognito window. When the email arrives to your alternate address, open the link in the email (if you're using an incognito window, copy the link and paste it into the incognito session so it doesn't open in your regular window).
  4. You should now see the document with a button on the top right that says Sign Up To Edit (not the button to sign in). Click this button.
  5. You will see a form to create a new account. Enter your alternate email address and a password. You won't finish creating the account so the password doesn't really matter, but enter something you'll remember just in case anything goes wrong.
  6. After you submit the form, Google will prompt you to check your your primary account email for a verification code. Enter that into the the prompt. It may seem like you are merely activating a new Google account, but if you indeed have the visitor session problem, this is the path. See the 2nd italicized para above for a way to check if you have the visitor session problem.
  7. You will receive another two factor authentication request via your phone. Submit your code. This will not create a Google Account.
  8. When you submit this, you should see a warning that you have an existing visitor session. Confirm that you wish to delete the visitor session.
  9. Don't continue with the sign-up process! Instead, return to your Google account and add your alternate email through there. You should now be able to do so successfully.
-1

Two Approaches

1. Password Reset

This is a good method however any devices, applications, or services logged in using your Google password will need to have the password updated in order for them to regain access.

There are variations on this, but to reduce the number of instructions I am providing only one success path:

  1. From your computer's web browser, sign in to Google: Google Sign In Link
  2. On the top right corner of the webpage select your profile image or initial(s). I am referring to the one directly opposite the 'Google Account' logo not one that may be in your browser's toolbar(s):
    enter image description here
  3. On the menu, choose Add another account.
  4. Enter your 'alternate email address' in the field 'Email or phone' and click 'Next'.
  5. Instead of entering a password, select the 'Forgot password?' link located to the left of the 'Next' button see image.
  6. As part of the password reset process you will learn what Google account is tied to the 'alternate email address'.
  7. Update any affected devices with the newly created Google password.

2a. Clues in 'alternate email address' Mailbox

You can search for email messages in the 3rd party mailbox belonging to the 'alternate email address'.

  1. The alternate email address could not have been added to a Google account in the first place unless it could be proven (as part of the setup) that the person adding it has control/access over that address.
  2. Google may also have sent emails flagging 'important security-related information about your account' when you logged in through a new location, app, etc.
  3. Google may have sent other emails related to policies, Play Store transactions, or even marketing.

Ways to Search

    to: your alternate email address
    from: [email protected]

    keywords:  "Verify your added email"
          or:  "This is a copy of a security alert sent to"
          or:  "Security alert for your linked Google Account"
          or:  "New sign-in to your linked account"
          or:  "New device signed in to"

2b. Clues in your Gmail Accounts

If you have a small number of Gmail accounts, you could search in each one for text strings that are found in the verification email that you would have received.

Current sample of the verification email:

from: Google [email protected]
to: [[email protected]]
date: Oct 17, 2021, 6:27 PM
subject: Security alert
message: A request was made to add ['alternate email address'] to your Google Account. Click here to verify this request. This email comes as a surprise? Please ignore this mail and don't click on the link above. Someone might have just mistyped their email address and accidentally tried to add yours. In this case your email address will not be added to the other account.

You can also see security activity at https://myaccount.google.com/notifications

You received this email to let you know about important changes to your Google Account and services.

Good Luck!

1

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.