EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of my friends was recently hacked. Someone with a Russian email address got into her email, then took over her social media accounts.

The hacker even loaded up her Amazon cart with more than $100 worth of phone accessories.

Reginald Pierre, an IT specialist for SecurityRI, said it’s a common scenario, but one that may be avoidable by using two-factor authentication. 

Two-factor authentication (sometimes called two-step verification) requires a password, plus something else to prove it’s actually the user logging into the account. Often, that second step is a code that’s texted right to the user’s cell phone.

“It’s hard to steal your phone and also steal your password,” Pierre said. “That right there makes it hard for the hacker to gain any type of access.”

The security feature is available on many online services including Facebook and Amazon.

“The two-factor verification is available, but you need to look at your preferences and enable it,” Pierre said.

Users should also choose strong passwords for their accounts.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are several ways consumers can make their passwords more secure: 

  • Use at least 10 characters, 12 is ideal for most home users
  • Avoid using names, dates or common words. 
  • Mix numbers, symbols and capital letters into the middle of your password
  • Don’t use the same password for many accounts
  • Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email

If you believe you’ve been hacked, the FTC suggests updating your security software and deleting any malware that was installed.

My friend was lucky. It took a couple days, but she regained control of her accounts by working directly with the social media companies and Amazon. 

Though the hacker didn’t complete any fraudulent purchases, she is still carefully monitoring all of her accounts to ensure nothing else was compromised.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.