What to do if you have been hacked

Although you can’t eliminate the risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime, you can control how you react if your identity, accounts, devices, or information are compromised. A fast and complete response limits the damage caused by hacking, facilitates rapid recovery and gives you the peace of mind you need.

So let’s look at common cyber attack scenarios and the steps you should take immediately.

Script: After you file your taxes, you receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that your return has been rejected because a return has already been filed using your Social Security Number (SSN). This is a classic case of identity theft. What are your next steps?

  1. Report the theft of SSN to IdentityTheft.gov and file a local police report.
  2. Block your credit at all major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to prevent fraudsters from establishing new lines of credit with your identity.
  3. Continue to monitor your existing lines of credit for any signs of account fraud.
  4. Keep track of and immediately close any fraudulent accounts opened using your SSN. Then report it to the fraud department of the credit card company or bank involved, as well as to major credit bureaus.
  5. Visit the Federal Trade Commission website if you need more information.

Script: You start to hear your contacts say that they are getting emails from your account asking them to wire you money, or maybe click on a suspicious link. Chances are, a cybercriminal has stolen your email password and now has access to your account. So what should you do?

  1. Use reputable antivirus product to remove any malicious infection on your devices.
  2. Also, make sure you have the latest versions of your browser, operating system, and software on your devices.
  3. Change your email password to something long and unique. (Make sure you’re doing this from a clean, malware-free device.) Consider using a password manager to create and securely store your passwords.
  4. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) as another layer of protection to confirm your identity and protect access to your accounts. Examples of MFA options include security keys, push notifications, biometrics, and authenticator apps.
  5. Look for unusual activity with your social media accounts and check your email filters for any changes to your account (such as emails set to auto-forward).
  6. Make sure that any other online accounts that use your hacked email address as their account registration address have not been impacted.
  7. Alert your contacts of the attack. Remind them to ignore suspicious emails and avoid clicking on links in emails.
  8. Review the specific advice given by your email provider on restoring your account.

Script: Strange advertisements start appearing on your computer. It also spins slower than normal. You may have fallen victim to an online scam and clicked on a link you shouldn’t have, or downloaded content from an untrustworthy site. Malware has taken control of your machine. Now what?

  1. Use reputable antivirus product to clean malware infection on your devices.
  2. Contact an IT or IT professional to remove the malware if the problem persists after using your antivirus product. This is especially true for ransomware, a type of malware that locks your device or encrypts your electronic files and demands a ransom to restore them.
  3. Make sure your operating system, browsers and software are up to date. Enable automatic updates when available, as these updates often include significant security enhancements.

Change the passwords of all online accounts used while your computer was infected. But create the new passwords from a malware-free device, not your infected computer.

Script: You notice multiple charges to your credit card at a surf shop in Venice Beach, California. Only problem? You live in Iowa and have never surfed a day in your life. It looks like a cyber thief has stolen your credit card number and is shopping. What are your next steps?

  1. Contact your credit card provider immediately to notify them of this credit card theft. In most cases, your provider will catch any fraud before you do, reject the charge, and send you a new card.
  2. Make sure to update all automatic payments related to your old credit card.
  3. Consider receiving security credit fraud alerts that notify you when unrecognized device connections to your accounts occur or if your password changes.

Script: Your cell phone suddenly stops working. You cannot send text messages, make calls, or even receive messages. You may be the victim of a phone carrier scam. You feel panicked. Much of your life is connected to this phone. Plus, all of your financial accounts are set up with multi-factor authentication, with a one-time passcode texted to you. This means that the fraudster could intercept the password and possibly infiltrate your accounts. What should you do?

  1. Immediately contact your mobile carrier and financial institutions to let them know that a porting attack (which occurs when a fraudster convinces your mobile carrier to port your number to a new device) has occurred.
  2. Help protect yourself against future attacks by having your carrier add additional security measures whenever a porting change has been requested. Many carriers will allow you to set a password for your account so anyone calling to make changes will need to provide the password.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless, or even violated after being hacked. But, taking immediate corrective action can mitigate the damage from a breach and put you back in control.

In addition, your Morgan Stanley financial advisor is ready to help you secure your financial accounts and can direct you to other resources for additional assistance.