In this week’s tech-support column, I’m taking on an uncomfortable issue: How to regain control of your accounts from a not-so-kind ex. I’m hoping your former loved one isn’t a complete psychopath—or, at least, isn’t a psychopath that has access to your accounts—but it’s an all-too-familiar story. You live with someone, you share your hopes and your dreams, and they find a way to get into your accounts. (That, or you share login credentials, which is a pretty bad idea, too.)
Before I begin, one quick aside: Even though Lifehacker readers sent me plenty of questions to tackle in future posts—thank you for that!—I saw this post a few days ago in my favorite-ever subreddit, /r/legaladvice, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. In it, the author writes:
“[My ex-husband] has continuously hacked into my phone, emails, work profiles, and social media. I found out there were over 50 hidden apps on a previous cellphone i couldnt see or take off. I got another and now i have learned there are 3 on this one i cant see or take off. He has never had access to my phones. He took old email accounts i have deleted and turned them into a corporate account and linked them to his business account. When i try to access my new email ive only had for a month everything is in croatian. I was getting garbled facebook messages, after a little investigation i found that he had somehow made it to where everytime i pulled into my driveway he would get a notification. He was somehow receiving all of my facebook messages before i did….”
Though a little tricky to parse, the gist of the original poster’s story is that her ex-husband is causing all sorts of digital chaos in her life. While this might be an extreme example of account and device manipulation gone wrong, it’s not that extreme. If you ever gave an ex a password to one service and you’re lazy and reuse your passwords on other services, it’s not that hard for things to quickly go south—especially if you don’t have a lot of account security, and double-especially if they’re a horrible, vengeful person.
There are a lot of ways you can fix this scenario, and I’ll try to go in order from “least annoying” to “witness protection program status.”
Change your passwords
Obviously, if someone is using your passwords to log into your services (or devices), change them. And don’t make your new passwords something obvious. Don’t re-use any other passwords you currently or previously used. If you’re using a password-management app like LastPass one 1Password to help generate or keep track of your passwords, change your master password on that, too.
Once you’ve changed your passwords on your major social media sites, cloud storage services, email accounts, bank and credit card accounts, work logins, your smarthome device accounts, and your laptop or desktop—to name a few—make sure you also check to see if your services allow you to view any other systems or sessions that have logged into your account. Changing your password should prevent someone who has previously logged in from regaining access (if, say, you broke up and your ex claimed control of your shared laptop). If you can revoke access for any devices that have previously logged into your account, do that. It never hurts to be safe.
Also, this is a great way to see if someone else has managed to access your account even after you’ve changed your passwords. If so, it’s time to get craftier.