Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
The outlook is grim if your email account has been stolen, but there are a couple things that you can try to do to recover it.
Someone has stolen my email account. What can I do to get it back?
I've actually received a couple of reports like this in recent days. The scenario is this: one day you find that you cannot log into your email account. Then, to make matters worse, you find that someone else has been sending email pretending to be you to people you know.
Sometimes damaging email.
Remedies are few, but you do need to act quickly.
First, I definitely want to point out that this is different than the scenario I outlined in my previous article Someone's sending from my email address! How do I stop them?!. In that scenario you can still log in and send email yourself. And typically because it's virus or spam related, the email seen in that scenario is often nonsensical.
The situation we're talking about here is when someone has changed your password so that you cannot log in and send email, and you're getting reports of email to people you know that you know you didn't send, saying things you know you didn't say.
Call your ISP immediately and tell them what is happening. They should have some way of identifying you, after which they should be able to reset your password. This is typically the approach for pay services - they may verify your identity with your credit card number or some other piece of information they collected at the time you signed up.
Reset your password. Free services may or may not have customer service numbers you can call, but they typically have a "forgot your password?" function. These will either confirm your identity with a question / answer that you provided when you signed up or will reset and/or email your password to an alternate email address you provided when you signed up.
Get a new account / address. Changing or resetting your password through the service is really your only recourse to recover your email account. If that can't be made to work, then get a new account, and let your friends know that your old email account has been compromised and to disregard anything they get from the old address.
Prevention. It's tough given the number of accounts and passwords we all need to remember, but the fact is choosing a hard-to-guess password and changing it regularly are important steps you can take to avoid this situation. Similarly, make sure "remember me" is turned off if you're ever using a computer in a public place to read your email.
And as always, scan for viruses and spyware regularly.
IMPORTANT - Please Read: Since so many people seem intent on asking: I cannot and will not change your password for you. I cannot and will not email you your password. It's simply not possible, and even if it were, it would not be ethical for me to do so. Requests to do so will simply be ignored. Sorry.