Email Hacked? 9 Essential Steps to a Full Recovery
A hacked email account is more than a technical problem. It is an invasion of privacy, and having your email account compromised can feel like a personal violation. If your email has been hacked or otherwise compromised, you need to take these 9 essential steps now.
Step 1 – Regain Control of Your Account
If your account has been hacked, chances are it is now locked. You will need to regain control so you can once again access your email and take the other steps necessary.
Start with the technical support page for your email provider and follow the steps to regain access. Some providers may also require a call to a special hotline or answers to previously created security questions.
Step 2 – Strengthen Your Password
A poor password is an open invitation to hackers. If your email account has been compromised, you need to strengthen your password now. As soon as you regain control of your account, you need to change your password to protect your account.
Avoid passwords that are easy to guess, including your name, the name of your pet or the names of your children. It is best to avoid words altogether and think of a phrase instead. Make your password the first letter of each word in that phrase, making sure to include both upper and lower case letters and special characters. Avoiding words makes blunt-force hack attacks nearly impossible and adds an extra layer of security against other common hacking methods.
Step 3 – Let the Email Provider Know
Email providers deal with hacks and security breaches all the time, and they will be able to help you recover your account and your good name. Notifying the email provider can also protect your rights if the hacker uses your personal information for their own benefit.
Notify the email provider in writing, either by email or with an actual letter. Provide as much detail as you can, including your full name and account ID, along with the date of the suspected hack.
Step 4 – Let Your Friends Know
If your account has been compromised, the people on your contact list may receive messages that look like they are coming from you. Providing your friends, family members and colleagues with fair warning can make their lives easier and help them prepare.
Notify everyone on your contact list as soon as you can. Let them know that your account was hacked and encourage them to scan their systems for viruses, spyware and keylogging tools. These proactive steps can help them protect their accounts and stop the bad guys before they gain access.
Step 5 – Scan Your Devices
The people on your contact list need to scan their devices, but so do you. The virus or spyware that allowed your email to be hacked could still be lurking on your computer, smartphone or tablet, so a thorough scan is certainly in order.
Run a full manual scan on all your devices, as well as a follow-up scan using an online virus scanning tool. Run a separate spyware scan to look for keyloggers, malware and other potential threats.
Step 6 – Check for Forwarding Rules
The hacker who took control of your email account may have set up forwarding rules that send all your email to their account. Check your settings carefully and remove any auto-forwarding rules you find.
If you do find unauthorized forwarding rules, let the email provider know at once. The provider can research the situation and possibly catch the perpetrator.
Step 7 – Change Your Security Questions
Many email accounts are compromised when hackers guess or ferret out the answers to security questions. If your account has been hacked, you need to review and change the security questions you use as soon as possible.
Choose questions that only you know the answer to, and make sure the information has not been shared on social media or other public sites. Some people use nonsense answers to make guessing nearly impossible. No hacker, no matter how good, would guess that your favorite color is Monday or your first job was Yellow.
Step 8 – Check for Financial Emails
Many people communicate with their banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions via email. A hacked account could compromise that information. Go through your main email folder and all your subfolders, looking for banking and other financial emails.
Make a list of what you find, then go to each site and change your password and security questions. If the site provides additional authentication, sign up for that as well.
Set 9 – Be Vigilant
Recovering from an email hack is only the beginning. You need to be extra vigilant going forward to make sure history does not repeat itself. Keep a close watch on your email and report any suspect messages to your email provider. If something does not look right, report it at once.
Be on the lookout for email from people you do not know, as well as responses to emails you did not send. Such messages could be indicators that the hack is still underway and you need to take further steps to recover your email and your good name.
Having your email account hacked is no fun, and recovering from the intrusion can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. You rely so much on your email that losing access for even a day can be a real problem. Taking the right steps after a hack attack can keep you protected and help ensure your private correspondence stays private.