A couple months ago, two of my email accounts were hacked and used to send spam to my contacts (including friends, family, and professional associates). I was both embarrassed and annoyed as I tried to repair the damage. Since then, I’ve seen a dozen of my friends report the same problem on Facebook. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to prevent your email getting hacked.
1. Use Passwords Wisely
I hate passwords. I have so many different accounts with various websites for blogging, book reviewing, email, Facebook, etc. that it’s hard to remember all the passwords. So I started using the same password (or a combination of them). Bad!
You should create a separate password for every account you use and make sure that each password is complex (no names or birthdays and use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols). You should also change your passwords regularly (every month or two). If your account does get hacked, change your password and your security questions. And don’t keep a list of your passwords anywhere online or on your computer.
2. Update, Update
Make sure that you have all the latest updates on your computer—for your antivirus and anti-spyware software and your web browser. Some of these updates include important security features. If you don’t have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, buy or download it (there are many free programs available) and use it regularly.
3. Delete Old Email Accounts
My first account which got hacked was one I’d created for wedding RSVPs six years ago and then hardly used again. I wanted to delete it once, but couldn’t figure out how, so I ignored it. Until it was hacked. I didn’t have many contacts in that account, and most of those contacts had since changed their email addresses, but I still felt violated.
This time, I figured out how to delete the account (go to your email service provider’s help page). If you are also holding onto an old account for sentimental reasons, I recommend printing those emails and closing the account. Even if it’s an old email account, a hacker can still find personal information about you there.
4. Declutter Your Contact List
The second account which got hacked is the one I use all the time. Every day. I had over 500 contacts in that account who got spammed—but some of them I haven’t talked to in several years. After I changed my password, I went through my contact list and deleted those whom I no longer need to stay in touch with. I plan to do this once or twice a year so that if I do get hacked again, fewer people (and hopefully not as many of my professional contacts) will get spammed.
5. Report Spam
Before you delete spam email, forward them to [email protected], the spam box for the Federal Trade Commission. Mail sent to this box is investigated. If it is spam, the original sender can be charged $500 per email. The more the FTC gets from different users but the same spammer, the more it’s likely to be investigated.
6. Don’t Click Links
Be wary of the email you receive. If a friend sends you an email with only a link in it, don’t click on it! It’s probably spam. I refuse to check out a link from anyone unless they explain to me why they sent it to me.
Even if an email comes from a trusted source, be cautious. I regularly get emails that look like they come from my email service provider, saying I need to do something to fix my account—but the sending address is something like [email protected]. Spam!
If you get an email from your bank saying you need to login to update your account, don’t click that link. Go to your bank’s website (from a secure computer!) and check your account.
7. Avoid Public Internet
We’re all used to being able to access the Internet from anywhere now, but many public internet locations are insecure. Avoid logging onto your email or Facebook accounts using public wifi at a coffee shop or on a public computer at a library. If you do use a public computer, make sure that you logout or clear the browsing history when you leave.
Have you ever had your email or computer hacked? What would you suggest to prevent your email getting hacked?