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9 things to do when your email is hacked

Here's a checklist of actions to take if you discover your account has been compromised. And if it hasn't happened yet, consider these tips on how to make it less likely.

By Credit.com Jul 18, 2013 12:49PM

This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site Credit.com.


Credit.com logoFor many people, the first sign that their email has been hacked comes when a friend shoots them a text or an email saying, “Hey there. Uh . . . I think your email was hacked . . . unless you meant to send me that link to the Viagra store.”

Man with laptop (© Comstock Images/Jupiterimages)Or you might figure it out because you can no longer log in to your account, or your smartphone can’t retrieve your messages. Or maybe you can log in to your email, but find that your inbox is suddenly empty and all of your contacts have been deleted.

No matter what tips you off, when your email is hacked (notice I say when, not if, here), the impact can be disastrous.

The fact is, despite Twitter, Facebook and texting, we still rely on email for many business and personal interactions. So it can be pretty disquieting when inexplicable things start to happen to our email accounts, or our access to email is blocked.

When these things happen, we can’t just will them away or delude ourselves into thinking that our computer is simply having a bad day. They could well be manifestations of email hijacking, which often is the prelude to identity theft. So your response should not be “Oh, God,” but rather, “Houston, we have a problem.”

There are plenty of things you can do to minimize the risk of having your email hacked, as we’ve covered in the past.  And if you’re worried about how to spot suspicious emails in your inbox, there are plenty of telltale signs. Nevertheless, these days nothing is foolproof and nobody is perfect, so the likelihood that you will be exposed to a phishing scam at some point is relatively high. The question is what do you do when it does eventually happen, to keep both you and your friends safe. With that in mind, we offer these tips:

1. Change your password
If the wizards who hacked into your account forgot to change your password and you can still log in -- do it immediately and change that password. Oh, and make it stronger, stranger and less “you.” That means no birthdays, addresses, kids’ names, dogs’ names, maiden names, favorite movie names, favorite band names, or anything else that you might otherwise feature on your Facebook page.

2. Recapture your account
If your access is blocked, follow the directions on the email site help center. Once you again become the master of your email kingdom, invent a very sophisticated password, change your security questions and get creative in your answers because the hacker may well have nailed those questions correctly in the first place. Trust me -- you want them out of your life and not as permanent pen pals.

3. Report the incident to the email site
Your email provider has seen this type of thing before and may be able to provide you with further details about the nature and source of the attack, as well as any tools they may have available to protect your information and get you back up and running. (You may also have access to identity protection services through your insurance company, bank, credit union or employer.)

4. Speak to your peeps
Notify everyone on your contact list that your account has been compromised and they should look at any communication from you with suspicion for the time being. Further, they should double down on their computer protection. If they have already been victimized, offer your condolences and support, and make sure they are following these steps, too. (Hey, maybe forward them this article!)

5. Scan your computer with an updated anti-virus program
Don’t think that sophisticated email hackers are in it for the fun of grabbing your email and then doing a spam conga line. Often their goal is much more insidious. Why crawl into a life unless you can truly monetize it? Therefore, beware of the Trojan.

In this case however, they may have inserted it into your system so that it can conduct recon and report back to them with all of your passwords or a treasure trove of your information. Get that program running and eliminate any and all viruses, spyware or malware that it discovers. If you don’t have a new and sophisticated security software program now is not the time to cheap out. It’s a reasonable investment that will ultimately show a serious return by keeping your information yours.

6. Review your personal email settings
Make sure the cyber ninjas haven’t created forwarding email addresses and if you find any delete them immediately. Also, look carefully at the signature block and make sure it’s really yours. The hackers may have included some malicious links there too.
7. Change passwords or security questions for other sites
In the event you shared your email passwords or security questions with any other site, change them, too. Too often consumers opt for convenience (or simplicity) over security and use a single password for multiple websites -- including financial services, social media, retail or secondary email sites. Not a good idea. In fact it’s a very bad idea. Change all of them and use different passwords for each.

8. Check your email folders
Folks have a tendency to send financial or personally identifiable information to others via email and then archive the offending email in a file in their system. If so, immediately go to whatever account is identified and change the user ID and password.

9. Monitor
Assuming that the hacker in question was able to find either your Social Security number  or other valuable pieces of personally identifiable information, it will become important for you to monitor your credit and various financial accounts for suspicious activity.
You can get a copy of each of your three major credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can use tools like Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card for an easy to understand overview of your credit history, along with your credit scores. Finally, you might also wish to contact the fraud department of one of the big three credit reporting agencies and have a fraud alert put on your file, or you may even want to ask them to "freeze" your credit.

Your email is an important component of your identity portfolio. You must manage it like an investment. That means you minimize your risk of exposure by being smart, discreet and sophisticated in your security approach; keep a watchful eye for things that seem a bit “off,” and know what your damage control options are before you need to control the damage.

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11Comments
Jul 18, 2013 8:34PM
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Yeah, ,my Hotmail account was hacked about 2 years ago. They told me they send the new password to....... guess where? Yep. The account that was hacked!! I know have a non-Hotmail account and have numerous times tried to get in touch with MSN to get back into the hacked account. You can't call them, you have to send them an email and every time, they say, sorry, we can't do anything. Mainly because I don't know the last few people that have send me emails. IT WAS HACKED!!!!! Of course I don't know. So, msn, if you see this HELP. I still don't know how to get them to listen to me or even have a real person to get in touch with.
Jul 18, 2013 9:55PM
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DEATH TO HACKERS------THEY ARE DESTROYING PEOPLES LIVES----STOP THEM   D E A D   IN THEIR TRACKS
Jul 18, 2013 10:00PM
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we have one hope-----the net, like the old cb radios, is self destructing------the perverts destroyed the fun of cb radio, now they are going to destroy the net......i would hate to be that sexually frustrated,,,must be terrible....
Jul 19, 2013 12:50PM
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Once hacked, and you have contacted your email administrators, you have to prove you are who you say you are..Write down some of your contacts email addresses , make a list of any folders you may have created and keep them separate, Just in case they are needed..Was hacked 2 years ago..they changed my password, changed where my email was  forwarded to, then changed the language it was printed in..In my case it looked like Arabic...FYI...One huge pain in the butt..!
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Every account that I have that can be accessed through a computer is currently hacked, my facebook, instagram, twitter, bank account, business website, paypal, bitcoin,my personal business website, who the host is i will keep anonymous, this is my 8th host though, my gmail, Hotmail, hushmail, ymail, amazon acct, Microsoft account, finance company down to my cell phone, tablet all hacked, I have 5 wireless routers, 4 modems, 4 mobile hotspots, gone through 6 laptops, 3 desktops, 5 phones, a sonicwall enterprise level external firewall, anti-keylogger, anti-screen capture, key encryption, top of the line anti-virus software, even hired a computer networking security firm to come to my residence to "clean" my system and prevent future hacks. This has been going on for 8 months, I cant even open an email account, set a password, close it and log back in without the hacking program changing my password on me. Bottom line is there is NOTHING you can do to stop someone who has free time to read coding programs and a 6th grade education from breaking in and robbing you of your freedom. I have lost over $100,000, filed an FBI cybercrime report, gave evidence to local authorities, all with no success, the truth is they are reading this as I type and laughing. If you have ANY digital info your vulnerable. To the person who wrote about their Hotmail, I answered all the questions they ask to recover your email and they told me I was "not accurate and unable to recover my own email that used my first and last name, the hacker now owns my name, social, address. Created a rift in my marriage by sending my wife's parents fake emails pretending to be my mistress, eventually leading to a divorce because she didn't feel safe anymore because he was putting up fake posts on craigslist and having meth addicts show up at our house for free meth. Our home was broken into several time. It crosses the line from digital to reality real fast. The fact is they own you. They have greatly impacted the path of my life, all for what, money and giggles, leaving a wake of  damage that you could not recover from in two lifetimes. We talk about hacking, and "they" always say the same thing, change your password, upgrade your antivirus, like puppets who don't know what else to say...billion dollar companies built of deception of protecting your digital assets. Lifelock sends my credit breaches directly to the hacker, and they have been unwilling to work with me on a feasible solution. Took my credit score and dropped it by 240 points, and you have to prove that you are you, because the hacker is better at deception. Take this digital life and shove it where the hackers sun don't shine.

Jul 19, 2013 11:34AM
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This happened to me a couple years ago and I ardently searched and searched to find a solution and ended up finding a startup called ReconID. They have saved my but a few times since, because they email you when they find evidence of your account being compromised on the web and not just email accounts but accounts that are tied to it too like banking info and what not.

 

Check them out they have been a lifesaver. Great article too, thx!

Aug 27, 2013 9:58PM
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I am soooooooooo sick of Hackers......I could become a mass murder if I had info revealing them all..Every account that I have that can be accessed through a computer is currently hacked, my facebook, instagram, twitter, bank account, business website,  bitcoin,my personal business website, who the host is i will keep anonymous, this is my 8th host though, my gmail, Hotmail, hushmail, ymail, amazon acct, Microsoft account, finance company down to my cell phone, tablet all hacked, I have 5 wireless routers, 4 modems, 4 mobile hotspots, gone through 6 laptops, 3 desktops, 5 phones, a sonicwall enterprise level external firewall, anti-keylogger, anti-screen capture, key encryption, top of the line anti-virus software, even hired a computer networking security firm to come to my residence to "clean" my system and prevent future hacks. This has been going on for 8 months, I cant even open an email account, set a password, close it and log back in without ..tablet all hacked, I have 5 wireless routers, 4 modems, 4 mobile hotspots, gone through 6 laptops, 3 desktops, 5 phones, a sonicwall enterprise level external firewall, anti-keylogger, anti-screen capture, key encryption, top of the line anti-virus software, even hired a computer networking security firm to come to my residence to "clean" my system and prevent future hacks. This has been going on for 8 months, I cant even open an email account, set a password, close it and log back in without the hacking program changing my password on me. Bottom line is there is NOTHING you can do to stop someone who has free time to read coding programs and a 6th grade education from breaking in and robbing you of your freedom. I have lost over $100,000, filed an FBI cybercrime report, gave evidence to local authorities, all with no success, the truth is they are reading this as I type and laughing. If you have ANY digital info your vulnerable. To the person who wrote about their Hotmail, I answered all the questions they ask to recover your email and they told me I was "not accurate and unable to recover my own email that used my first and last name, the hacker now owns my name, fake posts on craigslist and having meth addicts show up at our house for free meth. Our home was broken into several time. It crosses the line from digital to reality real fast. The fact is they own you. They have greatly impacted the path of my life, all for what, money and giggles, leaving a wake of  damage that you could not recover from in two lifetimes. We talk about hacking, and "they" always say the same thing, change your password, upgrade your antivirus, like puppets who don't know what else to say...billion dollar companies built of deception of protecting your digital assets. Lifelock sends my credit breaches directly to the hacker, and they have been unwilling to work with me on a feasible solution. Took my credit score and dropped it by 240 points, and you have to prove that you are you, because the hacker is better at deception. Take this digital life and shove it where the hackers sun don't shine.
Jan 18, 2014 4:09PM
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The steps in this article got me started but it's missing the login security that all the other sites I found say to do like this one  http://www.emailquestions.com/hotmail/8561-what-do-before-your-hotmail-account-gets-hacked.html
Jan 9, 2014 1:24AM
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Ok. I have figured out the whole thing now.
There is no way to contact Hotmail directly. They dont have a customer service or support line.
My account was blocked and i tried everything, I mean everything.
I changed my password, filled out the questionaire with all the right details but nothing worked.
Finally, I went to this site
www.hotmailhelp.co.uk
A technician called me & fixed my account.
I was paranoid for almost 3 days. But thank god its all sorted now.
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