9 Things You Need to Do When Your Email Is Hacked

Computer

For 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.” 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 most 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 you have 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. (As a Stanford guy, that
has always been my motto when dealing with people from USC.)

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. Don’t fail to 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, discrete 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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