You’re sitting at your desk, ready to send an email, but after several attempts to log in you realize you’ve been blocked. Someone has accessed your private information and sent inappropriate messages to friends and family containing links to viruses. Over the past year, hackers have affected millions of computers around the world. Unfortunately, this malicious act is very common.
Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, offers advice on how to handle this situation:
- Contact your e-mail service provider. “Explain that you’re trying to get into your account. After confirming your identity, they’ll allow you to change your password, which you should do immediately,” says Levin.
- Make your password impossible to figure out. Levin says when you change your password, it’s important to make sure you’re changing it to something stronger and more unique. The password should be alphanumeric (uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and exclamation points). So the letter ‘O’ becomes the number ‘0’ and the letter ‘S’ becomes a ‘$.’
- Change passwords and security questions for other sites. Whenever you change passwords or security questions for other websites, those websites usually send a confirmation message back to your e-mail. “Your e-mail often gives them a pathway to those other accounts. So you should absolutely go to every other account you have, especially social network and financial sites and change your passwords on those sites in order to better protect yourself,” says Levin.
- Contact everyone on your email list. Let everyone on your email list know your account has been hacked and that e-mails received from the account may be infected with a virus.
- Scan your computer with antivirus software. Scheduling frequent updates is vital. “Sometimes hackers not only take over your e-mail but also place a Trojan horse into the email system so that every time you go on your computer and you do something they capture it,” warns Levin. A Trojan horse is an e-mail virus that will search your hard drive until it finds personal information such as your Social Security Number and pin number. It then sends that information back to the hacker.
- Check for fraud alerts. “You should go and look at your credit reports to see if any strange activity has occurred as a result of this hijacking,” advises Levin. You can request a free copy of you credit report from the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also check out your credit report card at Credit.com.
Though there is no absolute way to avoid becoming a victim, you can minimize the risk of being hacked by paying close attention to strange links and e-mails that you know a friend or family would not send to you.