Oh, no! How to recover your hijacked email account.
On January 17th, I dragged myself from my nice warm bed, tottered into the kitchen in search of that necessary cup of coffee, and as is my habit, turned on my computer to review my emails.
These days, I have a fairly busy inbox. Not only is my novel, This Bird Flew Away scheduled for release on the 27th which requires a fair bit of correspondence, I’m doing my own promotion, and that’s become very demanding. I also have a family and friends who keep in touch. I edit for new writers and there’s lots of back and forth there. I've developed an email routine over the years.
First thing, I like to read the new hubs by my Hub-friends here on Hubpages. It’s a great way to wake up, a relaxing pleasure. So, emails from the Hubpages editor get first priority. Then family and friends. Anything to do with my book is next, and last but not least, correspondence with those writers I work with. Finally, the chore of deleting the trash that gets past my spam filter.
Did I mention I’m not a morning person? Getting into gear is a long slow process.
But this morning, I awoke with a shock.
User name and/or password incorrect.
Now what? My still foggy brain stalled for a moment, trying to comprehend.
I tried again. Same result. I hadn’t made an input error.
Like tens of thousands of other unsuspecting people of that morning alone, my email account had been hijacked. But I didn’t know it – yet.
No, it wasn’t for another hour and a half that fact became evident. Not until after I’d gone through the lengthy process of regaining access to the account. Not easy.
Google states they take your privacy and security very seriously, and to prove it, they’ve instituted a sort of merry-go-round guaranteed to have you gnashing your teeth.
Necessary, I suppose, but still annoying, like so many of those other things done for our own good.
Step One -- regaining access to your email account
First you need to reset your email password. I use Google's Gmail, so I went to their 'Please-help-me; I'm-such-a-nimrod-I-forgot-my-password-to-my-email-account' site.
Now, remember you can't access your emails, so you have to have another email address where they can send you an email containing the link where you can change your password.Luckily I do have another email account. If you don't, now would be a good time to open one.
So you click the 'I no longer have access to this' button.
Now here's where it gets kind of interesting, or infuriating depending on your mood. Mine was full-fledged panic mode.
You see, when you set up your account you gave them a secret question with an equally secret answer. Even providing you can remember the answer, you have to let 24 hours pass by before you can access you secret question. Uh-huh.
Twenty four hours without email was simply not an option for me. Twenty four minutes was tough considering how much I had on the go that day. (It was the day I was scheduled to do a blog-radio interview, for one thing.)
So I used the option, enter several email addresses of correspondents I contact often.
Oh-oh! Another problem. Gmail keeps track of the 1300 or so contacts for me. All I do is type in a first name, and I'm given a list of options from which I click on the one I seek. Trying to remember one or two, even those closest to me taxed my aging memory to the limit. But I managed to come up with a couple.
Enough to satisfy Google at least. About thirty minutes later I received the following email in my back-up account in-box.
I clicked on the link.
The link took me to this page. Easy. Put in the new password. I decided not to worry about security at this stage. Once I found out what was wrong, I'd change it again.
My heart rate returned to normal, though by now fifteen cups of coffee kept my nerves humming. I could hardly wait to get in to my mail. My in-box would be overflowing by this time.
The damage was done
I had no mail at all in my in-box. All of it, my 53 pages of history, anything that came in since the hijacking -- everything was gone.
My entire contacts file was gone. Every name and email address with whom I'd had correspondence for the past two years had been wiped out.
The page was a clean and clear as a new-born account.
I freaked. Yes, sir. I lost it.
Now's a good time to tell you I'm not very proficient in computers, software, technology of any sort. Like my car -- I put in the key and it works. Don't ask me how. I can put in gas, check oil and refill my windshield washer fluid. I'm the same with computers. Hopeless and pathetically helpless.
Google doesn't provide live assistance to Gmail users, but there is a forum where you can post your problem and eventually, someone may answer you. Here's the link if you're not in a hurry: Google help forum.
I was in a hurry, so I went to one of those "Experts on Line Now" sites, marked my problem as urgent, and received a bill for $48 upfront. All things considered, I decided it would be worth it.
Philip, who seemed like a nice sort by our correspondence, walked me through exactly what I needed to do, step by step. He was exceedingly patient, especially considering my level of ineptitude.
I'm offering his instructions here to save others the grief and $48.
For those who don't want to read through these instructions until you need them. Go down to the last section and enjoy the consequences of this hijacking. Yes, I can laugh -- now.
What to do to recover and resecure your emails
Scroll to the bottom of your Gmail page and see if there are any other sessions signed into your account. ("This account is open in 1 other location"). Then click the word "Details" where it says "Last account activity" and then "Sign out all other sessions".
The click on 'details' will get you a report like this one.
And look! There are the bastards!
Click on 'sign out all other sessions.' This will get rid of whoever was there who might still be in, watching you as you flounder around trying to clean up the mess they made.
Next, go into your Gmail account settings and check all the following items and verify that they are set correctly.
- Settings -> Accounts and Import -> Google Account Settings -> Change Password [pick a new secure password]
- Settings -> Accounts and Import -> Google Account Settings -> Change Password Recovery Options [verify secret question and recovery e-mail address]
- Settings -> Accounts and Import -> Google Account Settings -> Email Address Edit [verify your name and other settings]
- Settings -> Accounts and Import -> Google Account Settings -> Change authorized websites [Revoke Access to any sites listed]
- Settings -> General -> Signature [make sure nothing as been added]
- Settings -> General -> Vacation Responder [make sure it's disabled and empty]
- Settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP -> POP Download [disable it]
- Settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP -> IMAP Access [disable it]
- Settings -> Forwarding and POP/IMAP -> Forwarding [disable or correct address]***
- Settings -> Filters [no filters that forward or delete e-mail]
- Settings -> Accounts and Import -> Send Mail As [make sure it is using your correct e-mail address, delete any unrecognized entries]
What will this do?
In my case, none of my recent mail was reaching my in-box. I found it all in trash and spam. When under Philip's tutelage I checked out "Forwarding" I found my email was being sent directly to another account, very similar to my own account name but with one letter changed, an 'N' where and 'M' should be. It told Gmail to forward my mail to this account and to delete Gmail's copy, which meant every email that had come in had been sent to this new account and a copy sat in trash. Very sneaky. In fact, I had to really study the change to see it.
So even if, like me, you know nothing about how these things work, check all of these settings very, very carefully. Best would be to take everything out, disable all settings and then re-do them.
My entire contacts file had been downloaded, and my contact file was empty. This would have paralyzed me at a very busy time.
But Philip had the answer. To recover:
- Click on the contacts option on the left side bar.
- Select other actions.
- Choose restore contacts. (You will be given the option of one day ago to thirty days ago. Beyond that, you're out of luck.)
What they did with this
Perhaps you, like me, are now asking yourself but why, why would they do this. What a good question.
The answer became apparent as soon as I got access to my emails, around three and a half hours into my day. Every single contact in my file received the following message:
"I know this might be a surprise to you but I am sorry I didn't inform you about my traveling to Scotland for a Seminar.
I need a favor from you as I've misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money,and other valuable things were kept and
I will like you to assist me with an urgent loan of $2,500 U.S Dollars to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.
I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with and I promise to pay you back as soon as I return home.
Lynda M Martin
author of This Bird Flew Away"
Now, I still don't get this. There are no instructions to send money, no emergency contact number or address, no way for anyone to do anything except send an email back. Which many of you did (thanks.)
Any possible benefit would only accrue if they managed to keep control of my email account long enough to enter into correspondence with someone, without me finding out about it. If there's a moral here it's check your email account regularly. Move with all speed if something is wrong.
But the very sloppiness of the whole think reeks of amateurism. It smacks of someone making mischief just for the twisted pleasure of creating trouble in a stranger's life.
After all, if I was going to Scotland (my birth place and where I have relatives I can turn to if desperate) trust me, I'd probably write about it and you'd all know. And wouldn't I be unlikely to leave a few days before my book is released? Nor am I the kind of person who'd ask relative strangers to send me money -- in case the situation every comes up again.
But to those of you who did react with best wishes, regrets you weren't able to help, who tried every avenue to contact me, even as to setting up a thread here on Hubpages, thank you. It's nice to know so many cared.
This has been a grave injury to my business, to my reputation and my pride.
Every contact got this message, including agents who had rejected me, publishers I'd been in correspondence with, and even a Senator and his wife who I'd met at a Christmas party. The Senator was very involved in combating child abuse and had sent me contacts in the government to help with my research. Ye Gods, even the government got a copy of this!
It took me two days to contact everyone. I first, sent out a blanket email to everyone explaining the situation:
"Any email from me requesting a loan is spam and a fraud. I am not in Scotland. I am not broke. I am fine, safe and sound at home where I've been all the time. Lynda"
But we all know what happens to blanket emails. They go to Spam. So I've literally had to write to hundreds of people individually and tell them the whole saga.
Worst of all, all my emails dated before January 17 are now lost irrevocably. There are people who wrote to me wanting editing, people I was editing, people who wrote to me for help in dealing with sexual abuse issues, people who wrote wanting interviews or to highlight my book and the list goes on and on.
All I can say is here's the situation. If you have anything outstanding with me, please contact me.
I hope none of you ever go through this, but if it does happen, I'm happy to share with you all I've learned.
- Help, my email account's been hijacked
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