5 Must-Do Steps If Your Email Gets Hacked

Last Updated Apr 28, 2011 6:36 PM EDT

Just like your mom always told you, prevention is the best medicine. There are many ways to protect your e-mail account, chief among them using a strong password, followed closely by not falling victim to phishing or spyware attacks. Of course, sometimes bad things happen even if you take all the right precautions. So what do you do if you get hacked? Here are 5 things you should do to protect your data, cut your losses, recover control of your e-mail, and move forward as smartly as possible.

These tips come, in part, from a recent ghacks story about what to do if your e-mail is compromised.The assumption here is that you notice you've been hacked -- you recognize you've fallen for a phishing attack, for example, or someone is clearly manipulating your e-mail account in an unauthorized manner. Here is what you need to know:

1. Work fast. Once you recognize a problem, don't hesitate a moment -- the bad guys might be in the process of trying to deny you access to your account even as you are coming to understand the problem, so get to work quickly.

2. Change your password. Immediately change your e-mail account's password. If you're using Gmail, choose Mail Settings, Accounts and Imports, and then Change Password. If you're on Hotmail, go to More Options, Account Details.

3. Verify the recovery address. This is where your e-mail provider sends your password reset information, and if the bad guy has changed this setting, then he can request a password reset and immediately reclaim your account. Make sure the recovery address is set to an e-mail address you know and check. In Gmail, it's Mail Settings, Accounts and Imports, Change Password Recovery Options. In Hotmail, click More Options, Account Details.

4. Change your password hints. You might not think about this very often, but the hints can help someone suss out your password. Review them and make sure they're oblique enough that only you know what they mean. In Gmail, you can find this at Mail Settings, Accounts and Imports, Change Password Recovery Options. In Hotmail, go to More Options, Account Details.

5. Change other passwords. Finally, don't forget that once your mail has been compromised, all sorts of other accounts are at risk as a result. As quickly as you can, be sure to change the password for other e-mail, financial, and personal accounts. And of course, never use the same password on more than one e-mail or financial institution account.

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