Don’t let hackers use your email account to run scams or install malware to contacts’ devices.

Your email account is a “treasure trove” of information that hackers can use to scam your contacts and other consumers, according to security software provider McAfee. And your email account is also a way for hackers to gain access to financial and other accounts as well.

All those years of messages from banks, credit cards, student loan providers, doctors, business associates and more in your inbox make access to your email a “top prize” for hackers, says McAfee.

But how can you know when hackers have accessed or taken control of your email account? Fortunately, some signs of a hacked email account are hard to miss.

Red flags that someone has hacked your email account include these signs, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

  • You can’t log in to your email account
  • Your “sent” folder contains unfamiliar messages or has been emptied
  • Your contacts receive spam or other unfamiliar messages from your email address
  • Strange posts appear on your social media accounts

If you learn that your email account has been hacked, it’s important to take the following steps to regain access to your account and help stop hackers from calling your email account their own.

1. Change your passwords

If you find that your email was hacked, McAfee recommends changing your password to a strong, unique password that’s not connected to any other accounts. Then change the passwords on other accounts that contain the same, or similar, passwords, since hackers know that people often use the same or similar password for most of their accounts.

For added security, store passwords in a password manager and turn on multi-factor authentication for all your account logins.

“Take a look at your other accounts across banking, finances, social media, and other services you use and keep an eye out for any unusual activity,” advises McAfee.

Find out: 3 Ways a Password Manager Keeps Your Passwords Safe

2. Follow the steps on your provider’s recovery page

If a hacker locks you out of your email account by changing the password, visit your email provider’s recovery page to recover your account. For example, Google has a recovery page  with instructions for securing a hacked or compromised Google account.

Find out: How Data Breaches Happen and How You Can Protect Yourself

3. Update or install security software

“Use either the security software that comes with your computer, phone, or tablet or download software from a reputable, well-known security company,” advises the FTC. “Then, run it to scan your device for malware. If the scan identifies suspicious software, delete it, and restart your device.”

Make sure the security software scans for viruses, malware and unusual or suspicious activity to your computer, phone or other device. Also purchase the security software from a well-known provider such as McAfee, Norton or another trusted company.

Find out: Online Identity Theft Protection

4. Notify your email contacts

Warn your email contacts that your account was hacked, since hackers with access to the account can spread malware to unsuspecting contacts who think the email is from you.

Find out: Most Americans are Easy Targets for Identity Theft

5. Keep an eye out for future red flags

Now that you know what to look for when your email account is hacked, keep an eye out for suspicious activity and/or warning notices from your security software provider so you can prevent hackers from taking over your email account again.

Find out: 7 Ways to Protect Your Identity When Shopping on Your Phone

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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