What to Do If You’ve Been Hacked

A computer screen with text on it

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly what to do if you’ve been hacked. Protecting your online accounts, devices, and credit cards from unauthorized access is crucial. There are dozens of ways for hackers to access your accounts, from brute forcing your passwords to obtaining the information in a data breach leak.

Given this, it’s important to know what to do when you’ve been hacked. In this guide, we’ll cover how to tell if a hacker is trying to access your accounts, what steps to take if you’ve already lost access, and how to secure your accounts after you regain access to them.

Warning Signs Someone Has Hacked Your Account

The first question to ask is, how do you know if you have been hacked? Once hackers gain access to an account, they tend to act quickly – and hacking attempts can be subtle. However, some red flags will alert you if someone uses your online accounts, credit cards, or devices.

You need to know how to check if you have been hacked – look out for the following signs of hacker activity:

  • You get logged out of your account and can’t log in using your credentials
  • Notifications about password changes or password resets appear by email or text message
  • Your devices are suddenly slower, or their batteries drain faster
  • You notice suspicious charges on your credit card
  • Friends and family say they’ve received strange messages from your accounts, such as requests for money

It’s worth mentioning that fraudsters sometimes use replicas of these warnings and notifications, so it’s crucial to double-check that the email or text message you received comes from a legitimate website or service you have an account with – and isn’t a fake directing you to enter your details on a bogus site.

How To Get Back Into Your Hacked Account

What to Do If You've Been Hacked on computer
Scanning for viruses is an important first step

Losing access to an account can be frustrating. But what is the first thing you do when you get hacked?

First, perform a full system scan to check for viruses using your device’s default protection or a third-party antivirus program. This can address the root of the problem and prevent further leaks.

Next, check if you can access your account from secondary devices. If you can access it, change the password, and if you can’t, you’ll need to follow the service’s recovery instructions.

Here are some helpful links to popular email and social media provider recovery instructions that will tell you what to do if you get hacked:

Email account recovery links:

Social media account recovery links:

Why It’s Important To Protect Your Email Account

Your email accounts serve as gateways to your online identity. You use them to register new accounts on platforms from social media to banking, and they’re your first line of defense against hackers.

Losing access to a social media account while retaining access to your email means you can simply request a password change to regain access.

Losing access to your email account is a much more complicated issue, as hackers can use it to hijack all the accounts you registered using it. The consequences can be severe, especially if you registered sensitive services, such as your banking and social media accounts, using a single email address.

What To Do When You Have Control of Your Hacked Account

Regaining control of your account can be a great relief, but you shouldn’t stop at that. There are several steps to take to secure your account and make sure it’s safe.

1. Change Your Passwords

Changing your password is something you should do as soon as you regain control of your account. If the account you lost to hackers was an email account or connected to your other online accounts in any way, you should change the passwords of all accounts associated with it.

Most services offer a security feature that lets you log out of your account on all devices. Use this feature to disconnect hackers from your accounts and then create a new, strong password, following best practice advice.

Once your system is fully secure, you may want to look at the best password managers for a platform to store and manage strong, unique passwords for all your accounts.

2. Secure Your Accounts

Ensuring your devices are secure and free of malware is crucial. Make sure to update your software, including your operating system, web browsers, and applications, to prevent issues arising from software vulnerabilities.

If you believe a device connected to your WiFi network may be infected, disconnect it from the network until you’re sure it’s no longer a risk.

Additionally, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts wherever you can. This adds a secondary step to the login process, such as inputting a code sent by text or from an authenticator app, meaning hackers can’t get in even if they know your password.

3. Scan Your Device For Malware

If a malware-infected device is the reason your accounts got hacked, you should use a secondary device to secure them. First, you’ll need to get rid of the viruses on your computer, which requires thorough anti-malware scanning and potentially even a boot scan.

If you still detect the telltale signs of a virus infection on your device, such as slow performance or unexpected behavior, you’ll need to take more drastic measures. A clean install of your OS involves formatting your storage, which wipes all your data.

4. Contact Your Bank

Informing your bank of suspicious activity is an important step toward protecting your financial well-being.

Most banks offer apps to help you set up alerts. For example, you can set up account alerts to be notified of specific activities, such as large withdrawals or online purchases.

In addition, you can set up fraud alerts. These notify creditors to verify your identity before approving new credit applications.

In addition, you can place a credit freeze on your reports, preventing credit or loans from being taken out in your name.

With a credit freeze active, you’d need to enter a unique PIN to unfreeze your credit when applying for a loan or credit card. This limits the damage you’re exposed to in cases of identity theft, even if hackers have your details.

5. Let Friends and Family Know

Informing your family and friends that your accounts have been hacked can also help prevent further damage. Hackers often use hijacked email accounts for phishing attacks on their victims’ family and friends, either asking for money or exposing them to malware.

To protect your contacts, inform them of the hack via email, text, or a social media status update, and let them know not to open links in emails or messages from you and to disregard requests to send money.

How to Protect Yourself From Future Breaches

Norton malware detection
Norton’s antivirus scanning options

Going ahead, an important step is to try your best to avoid suspicious links and downloads and to refrain from sharing your account information with untrustworthy contacts.

However, no amount of caution will be enough if you’re up against hackers with enough time and skill. That’s why it’s essential to invest in an antivirus solution that will keep you safe.

Consider investing in a password manager to protect yourself from brute-force attacks. The best VPNs, meanwhile, will encrypt your data, block trackers and ads, and protect you from interception on public WiFi.

In addition, many of these tools have dark web monitoring features and can inform you if your credentials have appeared in a data breach.

Opting for one of the best antiviruses may offer the most value for money. These solutions often incorporate antivirus tools, a firewall, password managers, identity theft protection, and VPNs in a single platform.

Here’s a quick head-to-head comparison of some of the leading antivirus solutions to help you determine which provider might best suit your needs. All four of them have a password manager.

Antivirus Starting Price Real-time Protection and Firewall Identity Protection Features
TotalAV $29/yr Yes, No – Credit and financial monitoring
– $1m fraud insurance
– Data breach monitoring
Norton $29.99/yr Yes, Yes – Credit and SSN monitoring
– Stolen wallet protection
– $1m fraud insurance
– Dark web monitoring
McAfee $29.99/yr Yes, Yes – Bank and credit monitoring
– Security freeze
– $2m identity theft coverage
– Dark web monitoring
TrendMicro $19.95/yr Yes, No – 24/7/365 fraud support
– Financial monitoring
– Lost wallet assistance
– $1m fraud insurance
– Dark web monitoring

The Bottom Line – What To Do When You’ve Been Hacked

Calmly assessing the situation and taking action to regain access to your accounts are the most important steps to take if you’ve been hacked. Thankfully, most online services offer reliable account recovery methods to help you get control back.

However, hackers act swiftly and can often cause irreparable damage to your accounts or finances before you realize you’ve been hit. This means you shouldn’t wait but should protect yourself by acting now.

Investing in a comprehensive antivirus tool can significantly reduce your chances of getting hacked by protecting you from malware, ransomware, and phishing and can inform you of data breaches, allowing you to react swiftly and update your details.

Antiviruses like TotalAV, Norton, and McAfee also offer comprehensive identity theft protection solutions to help you recover from financial losses and the costs associated with restoring your identity. Nearly all these trials offer trials or money-back guarantees, meaning you can try them risk-free today.

FAQs

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Ilijia Miljkovac
Technology Writer

Ilija Miljkovac is a Techopedia writer with 7 years of experience covering all things tech. He writes about everything from cybersecurity to ISPs, ensuring businesses and customers are educated about the latest products and services. He's written for publications such as Business2Community, TheTechReport, Comparitech, and more. When he's not maniacally hacking away at his keyboard, Ilija spends his time either hiking in nature or holed up in his apartment gaming.