It’s finally happened – you’ve been hacked. Perhaps the hackers have taken over your email or social media accounts. Maybe they’ve got your financial information or they’ve stolen your identity. They could be opening new accounts in your name or sending frantic pleas for money to everyone on your friends list. They could even be smearing your reputation professionally and personally. You need to take back control.
First, you should clean any malware off your computer. Then, to regain control of hacked email and social media accounts, follow the recovery process for the service in question. Once you’re back in, you’ll need to change your passwords, notify your contacts that you were hacked, and make sure to cut off any access the hacker might still have to your information. If it was your credit card that was hacked, you’ll just need to call the issuer and report the fraudulent charges – if they don’t refuse them first. If you discover that hackers have fully stolen your identity to open up new accounts in your name or worse, you will have a long cleanup process ahead of you.
Clean Malware Off Your Computer
If any of your accounts have been hacked, there’s a good chance that the hackers have downloaded malware onto your device. They may have even used the malware to gain access to your accounts. Use a good antivirus program from a reputable developer like Trend Micro to run a scan on your system. Remove any malware.
Get Back Into Your Hacked Accounts
Regaining access to a hacked account will require you to follow the service provider’s recovery process. Here are links to the recovery process for the most popular email and social media service providers:
Once you have recovered access to your account, change the password. Choose something secure and unique – aim for a 12-16 character password that uses a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. If you’ve used that account password for other accounts, change those too – and get a password manager so you can keep track of all your passwords and generate new, strong ones easily. Make sure you check your sent messages to see what the hacker has been saying to people, and your deleted messages in case they read and deleted any of your incoming messages. Delete any posts the hacker made, and make sure the recovery information is accurate. Make sure the account isn’t set to forward messages or send notifications to the hacker’s email.
Notify Your Contacts List
People on your contacts list will have been contacted by the hacker, posing as you, so let everyone know that you were hacked. People will need to know if their own devices have potentially been compromised by a message sent by the hacker posing as you.
Cancel Any Compromised Credit Cards
If your credit card has been hacked, you should call the card issuer as soon as you notice signs of fraudulent activity. For example, you might get a text notification that someone has changed your credit card login password or other login credentials. You might see transactions on your account that you didn’t make. Pay attention to small transactions – hackers often buy something small at first just to see if the card still works.
Usually, it’s not a big deal to stop fraudulent use of a credit card. You just call the bank, if they don’t notice it first, and they’ll cancel the compromised card and make you a new one. You shouldn’t have to pay for the fraudulent charges.
Check Your Credit Report for Suspicious Activity
If your accounts or credit card has been compromised, you need to consider yourself at increased risk for more serious identity theft – the kind that involves opening new accounts or making big purchases in your name, stealing the money you have in the bank, using your health insurance, using your Social Security number to work and file taxes, and so on.
Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three main bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Consider putting a fraud alert or a freeze on your credit to keep anyone from opening a new account in your name.
Regain Control of Your Identity
If your identity has been stolen and someone is out there spending recklessly in your name or using your Social Security number or similar, you’ll need to file reports with the police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You’ll need those reports when you contact your insurance, identity protection service (if you have one), and all the agencies and companies involved in the fraud. You’ll have to dispute the fraudulent accounts on your credit report. If your Social Security number is being fraudulently used, you may need to get a new one. If someone has filed taxes in your name, you’ll need to contact the IRS. It can take a long time to clean up the damage done by identity theft, but just keep plugging away at it and soon your good name and finances will be restored.