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What To Do If a Scammer Has Access To Your Email Address

Originally published:|Last updated:|Dashlane

As cybercrime and phishing tactics grow more advanced, there’s always the chance a scammer could get access to your email address and create a dangerous cybersecurity situation that you need to respond to immediately. If a scammer has access to your email, a few simple steps can minimize the potential loss of privacy and security.

How to tell if your email has been hacked

What can a scammer do with your email? Stolen credentials allow a scammer to send malicious messages or malware links to your contacts, extract personal or financial information from your saved messages, or get your friends and family to send money to them under false pretenses. 

Here are some telltale signs that your email account has been hacked:

  • You can’t log in. One of the first things a scammer might do if they access your email account is change your password. If you’re certain you’re entering the correct username and password for your account and still can’t log in, this could be a red flag.
  • Your account is sending emails you didn’t write. It can be a rude awakening when a friend or family member asks you if you sent them an email that doesn’t sound familiar. Is this email a scammer? If you hear your email account is suddenly delivering mysterious links or spam messages, it could be compromised.
  • Your folders have been emptied or modified. Your email provider will not delete, move, or reorganize saved files or messages. If you notice any changes in your file structure and you do not share the email account password with anyone, you may have been visited by a scammer.
  • Your device is behaving strangely. A compromised email account alone won’t cause your computer or device to slow down or behave strangely. However, a hacker may have already installed malware on your device to get access to your email account, which could account for the drop-off in performance.
  • You receive a security alert. Employers, internet service providers, and cybersecurity apps will often provide you with a security alert if your account information is compromised. These alerts should always be taken seriously, and you should change your password right away if you have been impacted by a data breach.
  • Your information appears on the dark web. Despite being vigilant, you may not always realize when your email account has been compromised. Dark web monitoring is a valuable tool that scans the hidden recesses of the internet for your personal information and credentials. For example, Dashlane’s Dark Web Monitoring immediately alerts subscribers if their password(s) or account information are detected and need to be changed.
A screenshot of the Dark Web Monitoring feature in the Dashlane web app.

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What to do if a scammer has access to your email

When your email account is compromised, it means a scammer has access to your account. They could already be sending fraudulent messages or malware links to your contacts. Notify as many of your contacts as possible using an alternate email address or by texting or calling. After you’ve contained the immediate threat, follow these tips to thwart the scammer and minimize their impact:

  1. Ignore them if they reach out to you
    One of the worst ways to react to a scammer is by engaging them in their scam. They may try to contact you, even using your own email address, but responding to them will not stop or discourage their behavior. Instead, any response will simply confirm another “live” contact to exploit. Be sure to mark any emails from the scammer as spam.
  2. Change your email password and security questions
    Changing passwords at predefined time intervals is no longer considered a best practice. In fact, the NIST discourages these periodic resets, since minor changes to existing passwords have little value and are easily guessed by hackers. However, if your email account has been compromised, you need to change your password and security questions immediately.
  3. Scan your device for malware
    Any changes you make to your account are of little value if your device has been infected by malware. If you don’t already have antivirus or anti-malware software installed, now’s the time to download it. Run a complete system scan as soon as possible to isolate and remove any infected files.
  4. Report the scammer to
    Scammers hiding out in cyberspace and changing their location frequently can be difficult to track, but they should be reported anyway. Free services like help you deactivate affected accounts, sign up for free credit monitoring, and learn how to report a scammer email.
  5. Create a new email address
    To be completely safe, you can follow the steps above, then start fresh with a brand new email address. Since the average person in the U.S. has 100-150 accounts linked to their email address, you will also need to locate and update all of these connected accounts.
A graphic with a list of steps to take if a scammer has access to your email: 1) ignore them if they reach out to you, 2) change your email password and security questions, 3) report the scammer to, 4) create a new email address, 5) scan your devices for malware.

How to prevent scammers from accessing your email

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to manage a hacked email account is by preventing it from being hacked in the first place. These additional tips and tricks will help keep you safe from future email breaches:

  • Use 2-factor or multifactor authentication

2-factor authentication (2FA) makes your email account more secure by requesting a second identifier, such as a unique code sent through an app or text message. This might add a few seconds to your login time, but it will make it nearly impossible for a scammer to access your account without having your device. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) uses two or more identifiers, sometimes including biometric factors like fingerprints or facial recognition. 

  • Check your backup contact method

Most of us don’t think about or update our recovery email address or backup contact method often—if at all. Make sure the email address and phone number you provide are active and up to date. These backup methods become important when you are locked out of your account and need to reset your password or receive security alerts.

  • Be on the alert for phishing attacks

How are emails hacked? A phishing attack, often in the form of an unsolicited email, is a social engineering tactic used to trick recipients into sharing account information or passwords. Some also include links to spyware or keyloggers that intercept private communications. Poor grammar, spelling errors, and URLs that do not match the company website can be signs of a phishing attack, but these signs are not always present—phishing and social engineering tactics are growing ever more advanced.

Graphic representing a cybercriminal sending a phishing email.
  • Use a password manager

A password manager protects all your important accounts by encrypting passwords and account information and storing your information in a secure vault. This can help thwart hacking tactics—like credential stuffing, brute-force attacks, and phishing—that prey on weak email passwords. A password manager also allows you to store, share, and update all your most important passwords from one secure app.

How Dashlane protects your email from scammers

Dashlane provides seamless password generation that helps keep all your credentials strong, unique, and safe from scammers. A secure vault safely encrypts and protects your passwords, and zero-knowledge architecture ensures no one—not even Dashlane—can access your information. Our Dark Web Monitoring scans the depths of the internet for your credentials, including up to five email addresses, and alerts you if your passwords or account information are detected and need to be changed.

The after-effects of hacking, like compromised email accounts and malware, are sometimes unavoidable. We caught up with a white hat hacker (one of the good guys) to find out how to minimize the impact of these threats. Learn what Rachel Tobac had to say.


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