03/15/2012 05:00 pm ET Updated May 15, 2012

Change Your Email Password Now (for Your Financial Security)

Chances are that your current email password is useless (and even dangerous to your financial health). I'm not just talking about those folks who use "password1" (and lots of you still do). Hackers and cyber-thieves can break any password if they have the time and inclination to do it, using inexpensive software readily available on the internet.

And once they're in, they can read your correspondence from Citibank, Amazon, whatever, and the odds are good they can get into those accounts too. How? Because you're probably using your email's login name and password for all your bank and financial accounts too. If that's the case, an enterprising thief can now use the email login/password for identity theft to buy the TV he's always wanted on Amazon (using your account's registered credit card), and for good measure, empty out your Citibank account.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from this nightmare scenario in one simple step: Change your email password now! Here's how.

First, make your new password longer and more complex than the old one. Hacking software usually breaks passwords in one of two ways: 1) it utilizes lists of the most commonly used passwords, as well as cyber versions of Webster's Dictionary, the most popular pet names, etc.; and 2) it uses a formula to guess every combination of letters and numbers comprising the password. So you can understand why "password1" can be guessed in seconds, but "J?k-78$_Dv" would take much, much longer. And cyber-thieves are like car thieves in that they both generally prefer to go for the easy pickings.

Maybe you think "J?k-78$_Dv" is a tad difficult to remember. Be assured that if you would rather use "GradU@ate519", you're still more secure than most. The password has 12 characters. There's a mixture of numbers, upper-case and lower-case letters, and punctuation. Also, the @ symbol breaks up the word "GradUate." If your email account refuses to allow symbols in the password, you can still keep relatively safe with "Grad513Uate." Or you might want to change to a service provider that cares about your cyber-security.

My second piece of advice is even simpler than my first: don't use your email password for any other account! I've given this advice at cyber-security lectures, and it never fails to get a reaction from the audience. It's understandable -- many people don't know that a hacker who uncovers an email password will try it on any financial account that's mentioned in the email correspondence. So keep the email password exclusive and deny the cyber-thieves the keys to your financial kingdom.

Third, once you have changed your email password, keep it to yourself! As with any password, don't write it on a post-it and put it on your computer screen. You might as well put it on a highway billboard. Don't share your password with anyone, especially someone who calls you and claims to be from Google, Citibank or the like. A legitimate business will not call you out of the blue to get your account's password.

Congratulations! You are now an expert in the art of email password creation and protection. Try it -- you'll sleep better at night.