What to do after online accounts are hacked

Facebook, email and other accounts hold vital information

Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent

A friend dropped by the Stettler Independent office a few days ago and mentioned that her Facebook account had been “hacked.” In simple terms, this means someone had, in one way or another, accessed her account and exploited it.

Of course, this is illegal. Will anyone ever be held responsible for the crime? No. Those responsible for such activities have sometimes been traced to other parts of Canada but more often to foreign countries in Asia, eastern Europe, Africa and other places. It’s virtually impossible to prosecute the guilty parties and our government has shown little to no interest in doing anything about crime like this. Too busy protecting Hollywood studios from DVD pirates, I guess.

What should you do if you find one of your accounts has been hacked?

If the accounts hacked include something like your Amazon store, eBay selling section or you PayPal account, you need to immediately contact the company through their customer service. Most legitimate companies do not hold you responsible for theft or fraud conducted through your hacked account, and most legitimate companies are easy to get ahold of. You have to call the company immediately and make sure all the facts are known, as your credit rating could very easily be affected.

If the hack attacked your email account or Facebook, Instagram, Youtube or other social media account, a simply first fix is to change your password, but even an old dinosaur like me knows that passwords mean little or nothing to skilled hackers.

“This summer, hackers destroyed my entire digital life in the span of an hour,” says journalist Mat Honan, who writes for online tech magazine Wired. “My Apple, Twitter, and Gmail passwords were all robust—seven, 10, and 19 characters, respectively, all alphanumeric, some with symbols thrown in as well—but the three accounts were linked, so once the hackers had conned their way into one, they had them all,” wrote Honan in 2012.

The better option is to regularly check your Facebook account to see if it’s been illegally entered: Find the Facebook account Settings menu in the upper right hand corner, then click Security and Login and then click Where You’re Logged In. A list of when your Facebook account was used, and more importantly where the person was located who used it, is then displayed. It should be pretty easy to tell what’s going on. An option should appear, “Not you?” Click on it and follow the instructions. Do this on a regular basis.

There are other ways hackers can get into your accounts regardless of passwords. Some include phishing, which is leading you to a fraudulent website, or spoofing, the act of impersonating someone or something to obtain information fraudulently. Spoofing seems to be pretty popular in the email world right now; I usually get a few a week from criminals impersonating various bank staff etc. And there’s plenty more strategies for online thieves to get what they want.

The best approach is to be suspicious of unexpected, unknown or anonymous people trying to get ahold of you online. Delete emails from people you don’t know. Don’t open strange video files being sent through Facebook to you, regardless of who they are from (your friend’s account was probably hacked). Odd messages that just say, “Hey it’s me check out this website.” Be especially careful of unusual spelling errors or unprofessional writing in documents claiming to come from the government or banking industry.

Look out for yourself. Don’t make yourself an easy victim.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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