How to protect yourself if your email account is hacked

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While email can be a convenient way to communicate, it can be a nightmare if you get hacked.

Not only is it a hassle, but you can become a victim of fraud.

Taking the proper steps after an email hack can help minimize the chances of your identity being stolen.

FOX8 ‘On Your Side’ asked some Piedmont residents the question: “Would you know what to if your email account is hacked?”

Emily Baker from Greensboro said, “I have looked and tried to research what is the best way to go about it if it were to happen.”

John Walkingstick from Greensboro told us, “I would probably just change my password immediately and then send out an email to everybody I know.”

“We had someone who got our PayPal address and out log in through our Hotmail account and they ended up taking a couple thousand dollars out of our checking account,” said Starr Ward of Greensboro.

Experts we spoke with said that email accounts are useful tools for criminals.

“It is one of the first targets that people go after; and one of the reasons that it is a common target is because once hackers get into your email they can use that email to reset other accounts of yours,” said Stephen Tate, Ph.D., the Department Head for the Computer Science Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

FOX8 ‘On Your Side’ spoke with nationally recognized fraud expert, Andrew Richards, of Fraud Investigative Service, LLC.

After hackers break into your email, they can steal your personal information and use it to harm you even more.

“Some of the better viruses, if you will, that are out there, they will actually go into your C drive, your hard drive, and seek out things that would look like social security numbers and account numbers and forward that information back to the hacker,” said Richards.

While you may not be able to avoid a hack, you can at least be prepared to do damage control.

“When you have these kinds of issues, you don’t want to leave anything exposed, because you don’t know what kind of harm they might be able to do to you,” said Richards.

Richards recommends a series of steps to protect you from identity theft following a hack.

1) Change the passwords to your email account and your computer, but do not change any other account passwords at that time.

“You want to really limit what it is that you are changing your passwords on when you have an infected laptop. You want to keep it only to those very first quick levels,” said Richards.

2) Take your computer offline and run a full scan for viruses.

3) Go to a secure computer and use it to change all of your passwords and security questions for every account you have. 

4) Be sure to notify everyone on your email contacts list that you have been hacked.

5) When you have determined that your computer is safe to use, change all of your passwords again.

6) Be sure to monitor your credit closely, examining your credit reports and billing statements carefully. Also, look for new activity and new inquiries.

Richards told FOX8 ‘On Your Side’ the unauthorized purchase of a cell phone is particularly concerning.

“The scammers will use the new cell phone to act as you to enable them to do the balance of the ID theft,” said Richards.

Some preventative measures Richards recommends include peppering your own email account.

  • Add other addresses that belong to you to your email contact list.

By doing so, you will be notified if the hackers send something to your contact list.

“It is one of the best ways of seeing as to whether or not you have actually been hacked. It is the earliest warning sign you can probably get,” said Richards.

  • Delete your email trash and spam regularly.
  • Purchase good quality virus detection software and running virus checks regularly.

He likens using good anti-virus protection on your computer to keeping a quality lock on the front door of your home.