I’m sure it’s happened to many of you.  Your friend calls and says, “Hey did you mean to send me that strange email?” 

“What strange email?” you inquire.

“The one with the link to a weird website,” your friend replies.

It’s at about that time you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize your email was hacked.  So what should you do if your email gets hacked?  Here are just a few of the things you need to do:

1) Evaluate how much damage could be done
If this was a trash email account that you barely use and don’t have any sensitive information sent to, then the impact could be nominal.  UNLESS you use the same password on other accounts!   If that is the case (Tisk Tisk!), then assume all those other accounts have been compromised as well and start changing passwords.   If you fear sensitive accounts could have been compromised (such as your online banking account) you should immediately contact those institutions and think about putting some credit monitoring in place.

2) Run your anti-virus
This has become trickier as we continue to increase the number of devices we have in our lives.  We have a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone… and don’t forget the computers at work where you’ve accessed your email.   If you don’t have anti-virus on every single one of your devices now is the time to get them protected.  It’s possible one of your devices was compromised by malware, and if you change your email password the bad guys will have your new password.  If you’re using a “free” anti-virus program it probably isn’t protecting you as much as you need.  Anti-virus is a very small investment to protect some of the most important aspects of your life.  If you’re not comfortable with your ability to install anti-virus or run a thorough scan, take your computer to a computer store and have them give you a hand.

3) Change your password
As mentioned above, if you have malware on your computer and don’t remove it before changing your password the hackers could obtain the new password.  Once you are sure all potentially infected devices are free of malware and are properly protected, change your password to something secure and isn’t used anywhere else.  (If you want more advice on creating strong passwords and using password managers refer to a previous blog post.)

4) Check your email settings
Sometimes hackers will setup automatic forwards in your account, or will add a signature to your email.  Comb through your email settings and make sure everything is set the way you left it. 

5) Tell your friends
Your friends will be unwilling beneficiaries of your hacked account because they will start receiving emails that contain links to websites they don’t want to visit.  If they click the links it’s possible they will be taken to a website that contains malware and they may get a case of the nasties on their computer as well.

At this point all you can do is monitor your online accounts and your credit and keep your fingers crossed that the issue has been taken care of.   Now is also the time to be more diligent about your online practices.   If you’re the type of person who responds to spam emails that are sent to you about winning the lotto in some foreign country, click links in emails and/or open attachments from people you don’t know, and send your social security and credit card information to people in email, then be ready to continue to have problems co-existing with the web. 

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