A reader asks:

What can I do if my account has been hacked and I haven’t already added security information to it?

It would be easier to recover your account if you had already associated it with information that cybercriminals can’t easily access, like your mobile phone number or an alternate email address. For example, if your account is compromised, Microsoft could send you an account-recapture code in a text message to help you regain access to your account. If you do have access to your account, add security information to your account now.

If you haven’t already added security information to your account 

Scan your PC for viruses

If your account has been hacked and you can’t get access to it, the first thing you should do is scan your computer for viruses. Do this before you try to change your password. Hackers get your password through malware that’s been installed on your PC without your knowledge (for example, when you download a new screen saver, toolbar, or other software from an untrustworthy source.) It’s important to clear your PC of viruses or malware before you change your password. That way, the hackers won’t get your new password.

If your computer is running Windows 8

Use the built-in Windows Defender to help you get rid of a virus or other malware.

Here’s how:

  1. From the Search charm, search for defender, and then open Windows Defender.
  2. On the Home tab, choose a scan option, and then tap or click Scan now.

In addition to the color codes for your PC’s overall security status, Windows Defender applies an alert level to any suspected malware it detects. You can decide whether to remove an item entirely, research it further, or let it run because you recognize it.

If your computer is running Windows 7 or Windows Vista

Get more help removing viruses

Reset your password

Once you’ve scanned your computer for viruses, reset the password on your account.

If you can’t reset your password, and you haven’t already added security information to your account, you can still get back into the account by filling out a questionnaire. You will be asked specific questions about the account and email messages that might be stored there. Someone will get back to you within 24 hours (typically a lot sooner).

For more information, see How to recover your hacked Microsoft account.