Internet takeover sounds like a pretty scary term, doesn’t it? Like something straight out of a cyber thriller, where the black hat hackers manage to somehow reroute the entire internet for the government’s military defenses and weather satellites? 

In reality, “internet takeover” refers to something on a much smaller, individual scale, but can be almost as scary.Internet takeover is the term security experts use to classify a situation in which an identity theft victim’s internet accounts are taken over by a hacker or ID thief. Imagine going to your computer at home, at work, or even just on your smartphone, and finding out someone has been using your online accounts, or worse, has now locked you out of them by gaining access and changing the passwords.

It might sound a little hard to believe. After all, most consumers start to think, “Who would want access to my Facebook account? It’s just a bunch of old vacation pictures!” or something similar. But in reality, 9% of the calls last year to the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center’s 24-hour call center were reports of internet takeover; that may not sound like a large percentage, but due to the high volume of consumer support calls the ITRC receives every day, it is a high number of cases. And that’s just the individuals who reached out for help, so the annual number of these cases can actually be much, much higher.

Once the initial frustration of being locked out of your email, social media, or even bank and retail internet accounts passes, that’s when the fear creeps in. WHAT is the thief doing with your accounts, and even more important, what can you do about it?

  • Email: Contact your email service provider immediately. This might be the company with whom you have your internet service if you’ve chosen to use one of the email accounts that comes with your connection (such as This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or it might be an email hosting company like Google’s Gmail or Yahoo! mail. You can find contact information online, then let them know your account has been accessed and you need a new password. Once you have access to your account again, send an email immediately to all of your contacts, informing them that you were hacked and that any emails they may have received from you recently may have been fraudulent.
  • Social Media: Again, contact the platforms directly through their Contact Us links and inform them of the situation. They will follow a similar process of issuing you the new password, and you may wish to post a generic message on those platforms informing your friends or followers that your account was hacked and that any recent posts or activity may be malicious. 
  • Financial Accounts: This is a little trickier. While internet takeover is against the law, using someone’s financial accounts fraudulently is a bigger deal. Contact your bank and credit card issuer fraud departments directly about the takeover, and follow their procedures for securing your accounts and your identity.

While this Fact Sheet from the Identity Theft Resource Center can give you more in-depth information on what steps you should take, it’s important that you do not fall victim to “nobody cares” syndrome. This is the problem when internet users think to themselves, “Nobody cares about my accounts! I’m not a big deal!” Remember, the hacker isn’t after stored recipes your sister emailed to you or pictures of your vacation from last summer. He’s digging around in all of your accounts hoping to find all the pieces of the puzzle to commit the real crime of identity theft. Unfortunately, your email, social media, and other accounts gather enough information on you that a hacker can easily recreate your entire identity if you don’t stop him.

 

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