Dealing with a hacked email account can be a frustrating, embarrassing, and nerve-wracking experience. So much of our online security and interaction relies on a safe and secure email address, which means that responding to any potential hacking threat should always be a priority issue. Below are the first steps that everyone should take as soon as they suspect that their email address has been compromised.
Take Back Control:
The first and most crucial step is to regain control of your account by changing your password. Some email providers may also require you to enter a code or otherwise verify your identity if the account has been flagged for suspicious activity. If you think there is a chance that your computer has been infected with a keylogging program, it is a good idea to change your password from a separate computer to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Upgrade Your Password:
After the account is back in your hands, you should take the time to create a more secure password for your email address. If you use your email address to log in to any other websites, change the passwords for those as well. Never use the same password for your email address that you use anywhere else, since that gives a hacker access to much more information if your account is compromised. Use a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols in order to make it much more difficult to crack your password in the future. If you have trouble remembering passwords, there are many free programs such as KeePass that will allow you to store them safely and securely offline.
Change Your Recovery Questions and Password Hints:
Along with the password, you should also change the password hints or recovery questions for your email address, since it is possible that someone guessed the answers in order to gain access to your email account. Make sure the questions are not related to information that could be found with a bit of sleuthing, such as birthdays, maiden names, place of birth, etc. For added security,
consider typing a second password as your answer instead.
Perform a Sweep:
Check all of your email settings to make sure that everything is in order. Look for any forwarding addresses that you did not add, as well as any new folders or suspicious emails hidden in existing folders. Ensure that there are no new back-up addresses or telephone numbers linked to your account. If you use a signature block in your email correspondence, make sure the hacker hasn’t added any malicious links to it.
Notify Your Contacts:
Once the account is fully secured, send an email out to all of your contacts notifying them that your account was hacked. Many email accounts are hacked for the purpose of sending out spam, malicious links, messages or asking for money or personal information. Sending out a warning ensures that nobody else becomes a victim.
Run a Virus Check:
If you didn’t have an anti-virus program installed beforehand, this should be a wake-up call to invest in one. Even if you did have a program in place, a virus may have slipped past and avoided detection. Check to make sure that your anti-virus program is completely up to date, then run a check in case your computer was infected with a Trojan or keylogging program that could provide the hacker access to sensitive information.
Be on the Lookout:
Even if you caught the hacking attempt early on, it is possible that your social security number or financial information was compromised. Because of this, it is important to stay vigilant even after you have secured your email address. It may be wise to perform a credit check or even put a temporary freeze on your accounts to minimize your risk. Monitor any online purchase notifications as well, since some hackers will attempt to slowly drain accounts with small, inconspicuous purchases over time.
Even with the best precautions in place, it is still possible to fall prey to increasingly sophisticated hacking and phishing methods that could place your identity and finances at risk. If you suspect that your email account may have been hacked, the advice above could be all it takes to stop the hacker in their tracks.