Monday, November 21, 2011

Dealing with Hikacked Email Accounts

A colleague at work recently related an all too frequent tale of having an email account hijacked. One morning she began to get emails and telephone calls from friends concerned about her and asking if she was OK. It seems that several of her friends received the same email message. The email sent on her email account indicated that she was stranded in London and her purse, baggage and passport had been stolen leaving her without money to get back to the US. The email gave information for transferring money to her as soon as possible with a promise of prompt repayment when she returned to Cincinnati.

This scenario is not a new one but the details of the false dilemma do change. Sometimes the victim is a teenager asking for money from kindly grandparents asking that they don’t inform parents about the kid’s predicament. The one constant is that this is a scam. It is one of several scams that are a result of having an email account hijacked.

There are other less obvious symptoms of hijacked email accounts. If you begin to see several notifications in your email “in box” of undeliverable messages and these messages were never sent by you, your account may have been hacked.

So what do you do? There is really no one answer. For sure, the first thing you should do is change the password of the email account that has been compromised. In many cases this will keep any future emails from being posted from your account. If you are unable to make this change, you should not give up and just quit using that account. While this might be the easiest thing to do, it does not stop the hijacker from using your identity. You may need to contact your email provider to assist you in modifying this account.

If you are able to get into your account to change your password, you should look into the account settings to make sure that the hacker has not set up some forwarding or notification prompts that will keep them connected to the account.

Once you are sure that you have regained control over your email account or have established a new account, you obviously should use a new password. I have discussed password security often but it is worth repeating that a password should be chosen carefully. Using your middle name, your first born’s middle name or birth date, your home address or other name or set of numbers relating to some aspect of your life makes your account easy pickings.

It is always a good idea to maintain two email accounts. Since many, like Google, Hot Mail and Yahoo offer free accounts, having two is not an issue. That way if your main account is compromised you can contact your friends and colleagues using the other account informing them of the fact that the first account has been compromised and any strange emails allegedly from you should be ignored.

I can help you with this problem in person. Just send me your credit card info, your social security number and you new passwords. I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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