Last week my Facebook account was hacked. Someone got ahold of my password, changed it, so I couldn’t get into my account, and then posted some pretty awful stuff that worried a lot of my friends.

I was fortunate. I was alerted to the problem within 10 minutes, and within an hour, I was back in control of my account, and my friends were reassured.

That same day I was contacted by two different scammers regarding an ad I had on Craigslist. Fortunately, I was wise to their scheme, and I didn’t fall for it.

But hackers and scammers are everywhere, and if you’re not careful, they can take advantage of you.

Here are some steps you can take and things you can remember to decrease your chances of being hit by unscrupulous people.

Choose Strong Passwords

Really, that goes without saying. In my case, I’ve always used strong passwords for financial sites. But I was a little lax on social networking sites. I tended to use the same password across all social networking sites, so I could remember it. Bad idea.

Pick a long password, with random capital and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters (if they’re allowed by the website).

If you use the same password and email address across several sites, and one site is compromised, the people who gain access to one account will have access to all your accounts. It’s best to use different passwords on every account you have. It’s a pain, but in this day and age, it’s really necessary. I just wish I’d followed this advice before my incident last week.

If you have a hard time remembering your passwords, there are programs out there that can help you. I like to use Password Safe. Your passwords are stored in an encrypted password database on your desktop that you can access with a single master password. And Password Safe is free!

It’s a good idea to keep a hard copy of your usernames and passwords, too, in case your computer is stolen or lost. But keep them in a very safe place, away from your computer.

One place you shouldn’t store your passwords is in your browser. If you set your browser to automatically remember your passwords and your laptop gets stolen, you’re in deep trouble. Again, this is a pain, but it’s a necessary precaution.

Use Common Sense

If something doesn’t make a lot of sense, something is probably wrong. This was the case with my Craigslist scammers.

I was selling some furniture, and I received two different emails, each inquiring if my furniture was still available. I replied to both that yes, it was.

And both sent me a reply, saying they would buy the furniture without seeing it. One guy supposedly lived out of state and would send movers to pick up the furniture once I cashed his cashier’s check.

The other guy was headed to Hawaii for his honeymoon, but would be by with movers as soon as he got back…after I cashed his cashier’s check.

First, when it comes to Craigslist, it’s best to deal locally. So on that basis alone, I refused to talk further. Second, what are the chances that someone would buy furniture, sight unseen, without at least asking a few questions? Not likely.

Finally, what are the chances that two different people would have the same story? Again, not likely, and a big red flag.

Trust Your Instincts

In today’s world, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If something doesn’t seem right, even if you can’t put your finger on it, trust your instincts.

The day my Facebook account was hacked, I was fairly active on the site. I remember clicking through to one application, and something didn’t sit right. But I ignored the feeling and went about my day.

Was that application where my password was lifted? I’ll never know. But if it was, I could have been proactive, if I had trusted my instincts.

The Good That Came Out of My Experience

First of all, I changed all my passwords, and my accounts are safer than Fort Knox now! So that’s definitely a benefit.

Second, I always knew I had great friends, but I got to see in a tangible way how much people cared about me. When my friends saw a disturbing message from me (really, the hacker), I must have had 30 Facebook messages in a matter of minutes from people who were concerned and wanted to help.

As I was madly working to get my account back under control, a few friends instantly stepped up to help me out and help spread the word that I was OK.

I’m grateful for all the friends that were so concerned last week. I appreciate you all!

Now, go change your passwords. Today. Don’t put it off!

Photo by mikebaird.