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Your account has been hacked

I've received a number of emails from people lately that are nothing more than links to some site. I usually respond to them warning them that there account has been hacked and is now being used to spam people in their contact list. I sometimes go further and explain what to do about it since they frequently call me afterwards and ask anyway. I've finally decided to write it down here so I don't have to keep retyping the same stuff.

What should I do?

1) Change your password for this account ASAP.
2) Change your password for all accounts that have this same username/password combination (you should never re-use username/passwords across different accounts.  See below).
3) Look through you email account and see if there are any saved emails that contain username/passwords. Those probably need to be changed as well.
4) If you are unable to change your password, the hacker probably changed it. You will need to contact your email admin (yahoo, gmail, aol) and tell them that your account has been hacked and follow any instructions they give you. You milage will vary depending on their policies. If you are using AOL you are probably screwed.

How did this happen?

1) You wrote down your password in a place where someone found it (less likely)
2) You typed in you password in public and someone saw (less likely)
3) You logged into this account when you were on an insecure wireless network. You know those pesky warnings telling you you are on an unsecure network? Those actually mean something. On those networks, people who spend $40 bucks can see all of your network traffic, including username/passwords.
4) You use the same username/password on multiple sites. One of those sites was malicious and tried to find out if you happened to have an email account with the same username password.
5) You signed into a site that looked like your email site, etc but was actually an impersonator.  There are tons of ways to do this, maybe someday I'll write about it.
6) The email service you use has been hacked (unlikely, but recent events prove it is possible)
7) Some other way I haven't thought of yet.

Anyway, this sucks and its going to be a pain to fix.  I'm sorry.  At this point your problem is more of a policy problem of proving to your email provider that you are the real you and not the hacker.  If this were a technical problem I could probably help you do more.  Again, I'm sorry and this sucks.

If you find this website helpful, please email a link to it the next time you get bogus emails from someone.