My Email Account Has Been Hijacked!

Coastie65 is nowhere near Malaysia, but friends are getting email claiming that he's stranded in Kuala Lumpur. He asked the Web Browsing and Email forum for help.

This happens far too often. Someone gained access to your email password and sent spam in hopes of tricking friends and family.

To stop this plague, try to log on and change your password. And make that new password a strong password.

If you succeed in changing your password, you've successfully stopped the hijacking.

If you can't change your password, then the criminal has already changed it. Contact your email service provider to find out how to reclaim your account. If you use one of the big three web-based email providers, follow the appropriate link below for directions:

Then take these additional precautions:

  1. Your provider probably has a way to verify that you're who you say you are--usually involving security questions such as "What's your childhood pet's name." If you haven't set this service up properly, do so now. If you have set it up, redo it.
  2. Scan for malware. Use something other than your regular program. See Remove Hard-to-Kill Malware for suggestions.
  3. Never include your password in an email. If your provider asks for your password in an email, assume that email is a fake.
  4. If you access mail on a public computer (such as in a library), sign out when done.

But how did they get your password in the first place? I hate to say this, but it was probably your fault. Maybe a phishing scheme tricked you into emailing your password to a criminal. Or your password wasn't sufficiently strong and someone guessed it. Or your PC is infected with malware that's been reporting back to someone.

On the other hand, service providers have also been known to make mistakes. For instance, in 2009, a Hotmail security breach put thousands of passwords at risk.

In other words, this stuff happens.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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