5 Signs Your Email Was Hacked – and What to Do About It 

In many ways, your email account is the digital equivalent of your house address. You give it to people and businesses, so they know where to send the products and helpful information you requested. It offers a way to keep in touch with family and friends.  

But email addresses have evolved to be so much more than just an inbox. When you sign up for something that requires an email address, you’re essentially using it as proof of your identity, too. And that means your email address becomes a very valuable target for attackers looking to find a way to steal personal information or even money.  

To better protect your email account, learn the signs of someone tampering with your inbox, take steps to correct any issues, and practice good security hygiene going forward. 

Here are some typical signs that someone is abusing your email account: 

1. A changed password. 

Perhaps the most obvious – and most panic-inducing – sign that your account may be hacked is that you can no longer log in with the same password. First, be sure you’re using the correct password (a password manager like LastPass ensures you’re using the right one). If login problems continue, initiate the password recovery process. If the recovery methods don’t work (either because the hackers have rerouted the recovery information or you don’t have access to your secondary recovery email or device) then your only option may be to get in touch with customer service. 

2. Strange emails in your sent folder. 

Not all attackers will completely takeover your account and lock you out. Sometimes, they just want to commandeer your account, either to send spam or to gather more information about you while trying to hide the activity from you.  

Check your sent folder to see if there are any messages you don’t remember sending, especially mass emails to your contacts. It’s possible that an attacker will have deleted any sent messages to cover their tracks, though, so it isn’t always possible to tell if something was sent without your knowledge 

3. Unexpected password reset emails. 

Keep an eye out for password reset emails that you don’t remember requesting. An attacker may be trying to find out which banks, shopping sites, and other services you use. Be on the lookout for suspicious emails or calls claiming to be from your bank and asking for more information, like PIN codes or passwords. 

4. Complaints from contacts. 

If friends and family in your contacts list start emailing or messaging you to let you know they’re receiving strange content from you, this could be a sign someone is using your email inbox to send spam and phishing emails. It’s possible that someone is just spoofing your account, but if you’re receiving multiple reports from people in your address book, it’s much more likely that your account has been hacked. 

5. Unusual IP addresses, devices, and/or browsers. 

Many email services offer the ability to check your login activity and show the IP addresses or locations where your account has been accessed from. It may also show the browsers and/or devices used. If you see locations or devices you don’t recognize, it’s possible someone is tampering with your account. 

If you encounter one or more of the above signs that your account has been tampered with, there are several things you should do as soon as possible. Taking immediate action will hopefully minimize damage and prevent issues from happening again in the future. 

Change your password 

If you suspect unauthorized access to your inbox, change your password immediately. Use LastPass to generate a new, unique password.  

If you’ve lost access to the account, try the recovery process. If it fails or doesn’t work, contact customer service as soon as possible. 

Add two-factor authentication 

If you weren’t using two-factor authentication before, now is the time to turn it on. Most email providers support the option for a second login step, which requires you to provide additional “factors” before access to the account is granted. Two-factor authentication is one of the most effective methods for delaying or preventing attacks. 

Set up a new account 

Sometimes, despite best efforts to regain access to the account, you’re not able to get back in. In that case, you’ll need to start the work of setting up a new email address and updating all your other accounts to use your new email address. If other accounts were affected by the hack, you’ll need to spend time recovering them, too. 

Alert friends and family 

Attackers may use your email account to send spam or try to steal information from family and friends. Make sure your contacts are aware of what happened, so they can be on the lookout for suspicious emails or calls. If necessary, let contacts know of your new email address where they can reach you. 

Double-check account recovery information 

If you did regain access to the account, double-check your account recovery information. This means checking any email addresses that are listed as a recovery email address, and any phone numbers that are listed. If you don’t recognize the emails or phone numbers, change them immediately. 

Check account forwarding, autoreplies, etc 

Also, check that there is no auto-forwarding or autoreplies enabled for your inbox that you didn’t set up yourself. Attackers may be using these options to get copies of emails sent to you or to automatically send spam to your contacts. 

Investigate additional security options 

Look into other security options from your email provider, or that are specific to your device. This could include security alerts when signing in from new locations or devices, or the option to remotely wipe devices or accounts if they’re lost or stolen. 

Check if other accounts were affected 

Because your email is used to secure other accounts, it’s important to check if any were affected. Make sure you can log in, and consider changing the password to a new, generated password. If necessary, update the email address, too. Look into available security options like two-factor authentication and additional alerts.  

If you have trouble accessing any accounts, take immediate action to try resetting the password or contacting customer service. 

Run antivirus and clean up your device 

It’s possible the attackers gained access through malware on your device. Be sure to run an antivirus scan to check for spyware, keyloggers, and other types of malware. Ensure your browsers and apps are up-to-date. Remove any third-party extensions or apps that you no longer need or use. If you’re not regularly backing up your files and programs, now is the time to start. 

Ask for help 

If you’re not sure about taking the above steps yourself, or run into additional problems, ask someone for help. Sometimes it pays to have a professional help you remediate the situation. Yes, this may require additional time (and cost), but preventing future security issues is well worth the initial investment. 

 

Dealing with a hacked email account can be a headache. Taking precautions to better protect your account now can help prevent or mitigate an attack. Educating yourself on what type of suspicious activity to look for can help you identify problems earlier and act immediately. 

11 Comments

  • Trev Jones says:

    Another way that you can protect yourself from an email account hijack is by putting a ridiculous entry into your address book. If the hijacker then does a send to all of the recipients in the address book you will receive an email saying that the recipient was not found (or similar message), similar to the following:
    <>

  • SunshineLady says:

    I am 84 years old and my computer was hacked last week. The noise coming from my computer was ” ear splitting “, when I came in the room I saw a big red screen, saying computer contaminated, call this telephone number immediately. I tried to get in touch with my son to ask him what I should do, but, he was not available. I called the number and that stopped the noise and this guy began to tell me that I had 14 virus and 17 hackers, plus a bunch more stuff, I did not understand. I was horrified, that at the end, of showing me all the locations my computer had been hacked from, he informed me it would cost 199.99 to clean it up and make it like new.. Then, I was connected, to the person, who evaluated my computer, and, wanted to advise the correct fire-wall . Now get this, “top of the line” firewall was going to cost $999.98, for a total of $1.999.97. Since I am a sucker for any stuff that comes flying off my computer, I ordered it cleaned up and install the fire-wall, still arguing that I had a fire-wall., I knew I did , I had paid another company for it and installation. But, he insisted there was none. He wrote up all sorts of contracts for me to sign, this was a 3 year guarantee. Put a HELP icon on my desktop and kept telling me over and over, that they were on duty 24/7, if I needed them. I insisted he divide the payment into two, first, he had wanted a check, on that i balked! We agreed on American Express, and, thankfully, that night when I got in touch with my son , he assured me it was a hacker! Then, I was heartily chastised, by my son, who could not believe I was that gullible. That is just a kind word for “stupid”. He said I had to call American Express and tell them how foolish I was, and, please, would they help me get my money back! They were very understanding, their were plenty more people, much younger than I, that had fallen for this trap, too, so i felt some better. They put all the stops in place, and, said that after so many days, the credit would go back on my account. I thought I was “cool” again.
    Then today, my telephone rang, and the caller ID had my own name and telephone number. When I answered he said, your computer has been hacked and it is most important that you press 1 to call our technical support department. I hung up. Oh yes, I called my son and said, my telephone has been hacked and he said “what”????? I told my story and he said, turn off the computer, and when the telephone rings, DO NOT ANSWER! Eventually, they will get tired of trying and leave you alone! Do you suppose, I am going to be so lucky!!!
    I wish I had had the above BEFORE this happened!
    I just hope that my experience might help someone else, when they leave me, and, jump on them!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Bad link, brought me here instead of to “how to keep your cool”…
    I find it comical that a blog on security topics has bad links?

  • Jerry Michell says:

    My business email was hacked 1 week ago. Fortunately I had a client respond immediately. I was able to take quick action potentially saving me several thousands of dollars.

  • Beulah John says:

    Mismatched link. I was expecting something on Keeping One’s Cool if hacked in.

  • archina says:

    I secured my email with the methods described in this article. thank you