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Help! My Account Was Hacked!

How to protect yourself from email and social media intrusions

Communicating online has become incredibly easy with email, social media, and messaging applications. You can exchange personal and work information, sign up for services, or share exciting news with friends. But it's these very activities that can get you into trouble if you're not careful about security. Hackers can gain access to your personal data, potentially leading to identity theft for you or your online connections.

We want you to be equipped with the tools you'll need to navigate these challenges. So we're sharing specifics for both email and social media accounts — tips on how to help prevent hacking, signs an account has been compromised, and guidelines for reclaiming a hacked account.

Email Recommendations
No matter which email service you use, it's likely you have sent or received personal data like your birthdate, passwords, and credit card numbers. That's why your email is a treasure trove to hackers who can use this information in scams. It's also why you must keep your email account secure.

QUICK TIP: Avoid using public computers in places like hotel lobbies and libraries. They're ideal locations for hackers to install key-logging programs.

Help prevent email hacking by taking these precautions:

1. Use a strong password for your email account. Effective passwords are long and don't include words that are easy to guess. Passwords should also be unique to each account.

2. While you're at it, create strong passwords for all your financial accounts and change them often.

3. If your email service offers two-factor authentication, use it. Two-factor authentication requires a code sent via text to your mobile phone in addition to a password to access your account.

4. Hackers do their dirty work by sending innocent-looking attachments or links. Don't fall for it. Never click a link or open an attachment that's not from a trusted source. Even if it's from a trusted source, be wary; err on the side of caution by verifying with the sender if you're unsure.

Learn to recognize the signs your email has been hacked:

1. Friends, family, or coworkers tell you they've received strange emails from you that don't "sound like you."

2. Your Sent Messages folder has messages in it that you didn't send, or all the messages in it have been deleted.

3. You can't log into your email account.

If you suspect you've been hacked, take the following steps to reclaim your email account:

1. If you're able to get into your account, change your password. If you're not able to do this, use the "forgot password" function and answer the security functions to get in, and then change your password. Remember to use the rules above for a strong password. If you still need help, refer to your email provider's documentation for guidance.

2. Check your email settings. Hackers may have set your account up to forward messages to themselves.

3. Run a malware scan on your computer by using your installed antivirus application or by downloading and using Malwarebytes (malwarebytes.com). If you find any malware, follow the prompts to correct the problem and then change your email password again. Use the same process on additional devices on which you use the compromised email account.

4. Check your financial and other important accounts to make sure nothing is amiss. Even if nothing looks wrong, change your passwords on these accounts.

5. Let friends, family, and coworkers know your account has been compromised and not to open any strange emails, links, or attachments that look like they're from you.

Social Media Recommendations
You may be sharing more on social media than you think. Every time you like or comment on a post, or click on an ad, you're revealing information about yourself that could be used by hackers. You could also be putting yourself at risk when you reveal your travel plans, your birthdate, or your kids' names, schools, and schedules. Even if you use strict security settings, some of this information is public or could become known to resourceful online criminals.

Help prevent social media hacking by taking the following precautions:

1. As with your email and all other online accounts, a strong password is critical. Create a unique one for each social media account and change them frequently. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, consider using a password manager.

2. For each account, set up additional security measures as the platform allows. For example, with Facebook you can receive alerts about unrecognized logins, set up two-factor authentication, and designate friends to help if you get locked out of your account.

3. Keep your contact information up to date.

4. Revisit your privacy settings. With Facebook, consider allowing only friends to see your future posts and retroactively limiting who can see past posts.

Learn to recognize the signs that your social media account has been hacked:

1. Posts you didn't create appear on your profile or previous posts are missing. 2. You get an alert that your account has been logged into from a device or location that doesn't belong to you.

3. You're unable to log into your account.

4. You have new friends you didn't connect with or are flooded with spammy ads.

If you suspect you've been hacked, take steps to reclaim your social media account. The process will be different for each platform. Here is the procedure to use for Facebook:

1. Change your password. Choose one that's unique and isn't related to your previous password (such as just one character changed). If you're unable to login using your regular password, use the "Forgot your password?" function to login with your phone number.

2. Remove problematic applications. Go to Settings > Apps, identify suspicious apps, and delete them.

3. Tell your friends your account was hacked and to disregard any strange messages they may receive from you.

We urge you to take these precautions and keep this article handy for future reference in case you or someone you know experiences hacking issues.


Sneaky Ways Hackers Use Your Information Against You
Hackers are unethical, malicious, and persistent — and also very smart. They'll find any way they can to get your personal data and use it against you. One way they do it is by looking at the information you post on social media. Casual mentions of your daily routine, for example, could lead to a burglary. Another example is historical information about your family that might include, say, your mother's maiden name, which is often used as a security question for banking and other types of online accounts.

It's especially easy for these criminals to find such tidbits if your social media accounts aren't private. However, even if your account is private, or if you delete potentially revealing information, hackers may still be able to find it. So the best course is to refrain from sharing this type of information on social media at all.

Another way hackers can exploit you is by creating false websites that look like those you use for financial and retail transactions, and then recording your login or credit card information when you use them. The way around this scam is to make sure you're always on legitimate websites. Create bookmarks for the financial institutions and retailers you use regularly and access those sites through the bookmarks every time. For an added layer of protection, verify the URL every time you go to these sites and check for "https" in the address, which indicates a secure site.