What Is Account Takeover and How to Prevent It?

Malicious people use account takeovers to change your online identity, access all of your information, delete you out of various accounts, spread viruses, and stalk you. This is highly prevalent in today’s world, where social networks are becoming more popular. For example, websites like Facebook and Twitter provide new opportunities for stalkers to follow you without you even knowing.

Stolen account information is precious on the black market. For a few bucks, a person can buy enough data to destroy your life through impersonation as well as other forms of attack such as viruses and spamming. You might ask yourself, “why should I care?” or “what can I do about this?”. You need to educate yourself and take action if you want to protect your online identity.

Why should you care?

You need to understand that many people who engage in account takeover (ATO) and cyber-crime engage in these activities for money or as part of a group. They’re looking for easy targets, and they know that you won’t do anything about it if they attack you. ATO is a widespread occurrence nowadays, and criminals who engage in this activity often face no punishment, making it more enticing to specific individuals to attempt to steal your data or completely take over your entire online identity.

This is dangerous for you because of the amount of information that people can obtain about you simply by taking over your email account. For example, if someone takes over your Gmail or Yahoo email address, they will access any personal data stored in your inbox. If your inbox contains things like online account passwords, this person will likely use the information to take over your online identities.

Also, people who know about certain things can exploit them to get more information on you. For example, if someone finds out your mother’s maiden name, they could easily reset your password on most accounts by taking advantage of this. Also, suppose they know your current email password and your mother’s maiden name. In that case, it becomes increasingly easy for them to receive all of your personal information, such as credit card information and other sensitive data that you might have stored online.

If criminals manage to obtain extra information about you through ATO, they might try to spread viruses or spam with information known to be true about you. For example, if someone gains access to your email address and manages to find out your birth date, they could easily send a virus or spam to a friend of yours with your birth date as the subject. This way, it is much more likely that they will open the message and download the attachment because it appears to come from you.

How does an account takeover happen?

Account takeover can occur in a number of ways, such as social engineering and phishing attacks. Social engineering is when someone uses information that they know about you to gain your trust and then convince you into revealing sensitive data or downloading viruses.

Typically, account takeovers happen through phishing attacks, which are emails sent to specific individuals with the intention of tricking them into revealing personal information. However, account takeover can also happen through the use of brute force programs that attempt to guess passwords or by gaining access to your email address and then resetting passwords on specific websites.

How to prevent account takeover

You can take a few steps to prevent your accounts from being taken over:

Secure your email account – If you don’t already have an email account, then look for one that provides better authentication options, such as two-factor authentication (2FA). This way, when someone tries to log in to your account, they will need more than just the password to obtain access.

Use a strong password – When you sign up for an account, be sure to choose a strong password that is not easy to guess and crack on computers (such as birthday dates). If possible, use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols such as @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ + = ~ ` ; . ? , .

Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts – Many people tend to reuse the same passwords, which can be very risky. If someone finds your password on one charge, they may try it out on your other accounts to see if it works. This means that you should never use the same password on multiple accounts.

Make it difficult for criminals to contact you – One way to do this is by creating an email address that does not link back to your social media profiles such as Facebook and Twitter. Also, avoid providing personal information such as your current location or birthdate to prevent this from becoming general information to criminals.

Use unique security questions – Many websites use the same security questions, which can allow an attacker to quickly find this information online by just browsing through a few websites that have been compromised. A better alternative is to create custom security questions and answers that most people will not know.

Signs of an account takeover

  • Look for messages or emails about passwords, security questions, or login attempts to your accounts even if you did not perform these actions yourself.
  • Also, be wary of messages that are meant to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment, especially if the message claims to come from someone known to you.
  • Look for messages that ask you to provide sensitive information such as passwords or credit card numbers, especially if the message claims to have been sent from a company website.
  • Be wary of messages that claim to have been sent from your bank asking you to disclose any personal information. Your bank should never send unsolicited messages like these to their customers.
  • Check the sender’s email address to determine if it looks suspicious or not. This can be done by hovering your mouse over the sender’s name, then looking at the actual email address instead of what appears next to it in most email clients.
  • Check with your friends and family members that they did not try to contact you about something important. If you did not send out a message yourself, you should check with others to ensure they did not mention your name in a letter or reply to one of yours.


Account takeovers can be prevented by using strong passwords and unique security questions. Also, it is essential to think of an experienced account takeover prevention software, because even the most complicated password can not guarantee you even a half of security. In addition, users should create their email addresses such as Yahoo Mail or Gmail to protect themselves since many websites use the same information for creating new accounts. Although account takeovers are not as severe as data breaches, they can still be used for some very malicious purposes if the correct information is found online. Therefore, it is essential to follow these tips on preventing this crime or notifying yourself if you become a victim of an attack.

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