• Advice, Tech

Here’s what to do if your Gmail was hacked

This article is posted with permission from our partner MacPaw. MacPaw makes Mac + iOS apps that have been installed on over 30 million devices worldwide. Freelancers Union members receive 30 days of free unlimited access to CleanMyMacX and Setapp:

Can a freelancer's Gmail be hacked? Absolutely, yes. You communicate with many people, clients, and services, and it certainly makes you an attractive target for cybercriminals.

If you've got suspicions about Gmail, let's go through them immediately because hackers act fast. Once your account is hacked, the criminals change passwords and verification settings, steal your data, and gain access to other apps. 

Before hackers do any damage, follow these instructions from Moonlock, cybersecurity experts at MacPaw. 

First, change your password

When was the last time you changed your Google password anyway? It's a good habit to create new passwords once or twice a year and store them in a password manager. If you suspect that someone's got into your Gmail, we recommend changing your password without hesitation. Just make sure it’s absolutely new and has never been used before. Afterward, you can follow up with a detailed security audit of your Gmail account.

To change your Gmail password:

  1. Sign in to your Gmail account. 
  2. Click the profile icon > "Manage your Google Account."
  3. Click on Security in the side menu of the screen.
  4. Find a "How you sign in to Google" block > Click on Password. You will have to enter your password again.
  5. Click Next > Set a new password in a pop-up window.

Once you change your password, whoever has access to your account will be locked out. Now, you've got time to investigate those red flags that raised suspicions.

Have a thorough look around

From here, let's look for the evidence that your Gmail was indeed hacked. Moonlock recommends checking your sent messages, settings, and connected devices to identify what precisely the hacker was going for.

However, if you discover that your password has already been changed, skip this part and scroll down to the recovery instructions.

1. Another device is logged into your Gmail

Sometimes, criminals don't want you to know they have access to your accounts. In this case, they won't change your password, and any suspicious activity will be hard to notice. On the other hand, if somebody's got access to your Gmail without your permission, you can see their device linked in your settings.

The list of devices is right below the "How you sign in to Google" block, where you just changed your password. Under "Your devices," check for those that look unfamiliar to you. Click on "Manage all devices" and sign out of them to keep outsiders out of your Gmail.

2. Verification phone and email are not yours 

Hackers could've altered verification and recovery settings even if you managed to change your password in time. First, turn on 2-step verification and check if your own device is used for verification. Next, have a look at the phone number and the recovery email. If you can't recognize them, change immediately. Hackers might use them to get into your account again later. 

3. You don't recognize your Inbox and Sent folders

If you don't remember sending some recent messages, they don't make sense to you or are sent in bulk to everyone you know – that's criminals using your Gmail for scams. If you haven't changed your password by now, that's about time you do it immediately.

4. You get sudden security notifications

A sudden "Did you just sign in?" on your screen is a sign you shouldn't ignore. This notification should only appear when you're actually logging in to your Gmail account. If you get it out of the blue, review the notification and click "No, it's not me." This will automatically log all other devices out of your account. 

Check your 2-step verification settings and recovery email again. Ensure they belong to you so hackers won't regain access after you log them out.

5. Other services look off

Criminals often hack Gmail to get to services that are linked to it. From there, tampering with sensitive information stored in banking apps, e-wallets, or corporate accounts is easy. If you notice that your app subscriptions have different settings, help requests, or altered login information, that's a valid reason to look for a breach.

Create new passwords and set up multifactor authentication for all apps you use. At the same time, remember to secure your Gmail account, even though it might not be obvious that hackers used it to hack into your subscriptions.

6. Your Gmail is on the list of compromised accounts

Cybersecurity professionals do their best to assist us in our daily protection. You can always check if your email was compromised on a free resource “Have I Been Pwned.” It collects and organizes data breaches to help people check if their personal data has been exposed. Even though finding your email doesn’t immediately mean that it has been hacked, it’s helpful to check it once in a while – especially when you hear that a service or an app you use is experiencing a data breach.

How to recover your Gmail account

If hackers have already changed your password, you can still recover your Gmail account. Go to the recovery page, enter your email address or associated mobile phone, and answer a series of questions from Google.

Moonlock recommends to answer as many questions as possible. It's okay to take several guesses if you don't know the exact answer – you won't be locked out. You can be flexible and consider different variations of an answer. For example, try "NY" instead of "New York" or "Phil" instead of "Philip."

It's better to start the process on a device and from a browser you usually use to access Gmail. Even your physical location plays a role. Google uses this data to verify it's you and support your claim to the account.

Is there a point in contacting Gmail?

Google Help Center provides great guidance, but sometimes, standard recommendations fall short. Head over to Google Account Help and look at the questions the Community has already answered. 

If you can't find what you're looking for, scroll down to the bottom and hit the "Post a question" button. It will take you to a new page where you can post your questions and get in touch with a Gmail Security expert.

Should you delete a hacked Gmail account?

After securing your Gmail and locking everyone else out of it, there's no pressure to delete your Gmail account. You might want to get rid of it because it has been compromised, and that's a fair decision, too. Your Google Account won't go anywhere, but it's better to make a backup copy of conversations because all emails will cease to exist when Gmail is gone.

To delete a Gmail account:

  1. In your Google Account, get into the "Data & privacy" tab.
  2. Scroll down to the block "Download or delete your data." 
  3. Click on "Delete a Google service."
  4. Click on the trash icon next to Gmail.
  5. Enter an existing, non-Gmail email address to sign in and click "Send verification email." 
  6. Until you verify the new email address, Google won't delete your Gmail address.

MacPaw MacPaw is a software development company that creates maintenance, security, and app distribution solutions for macOS and iOS. Every fifth Mac in the world has at least one MacPaw app installed.

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