Most network providers offer online accounts to enable customers to check bills, change contracts and upgrade to new models. However, the nature of online means that personal data stored in your account is at risk of being accessed by hackers.

When checking my emails on a Thursday evening, I was confused to discover a message from Vodafone informing me that my change of details had been successful. I hadn't changed any of my details. But it was late so I went to sleep and vowed to check it out in the morning.

I awoke to a text message from Vodafone thanking me for my order, along with an order tracking code. Of course, I hadn't ordered anything. I'm perfectly happy with my iPhone 4S.

Alarm bells were ringing, so I tried using the tracking code to find out what I had supposedly ordered and when. The tracking code didn't work because I needed to wait for 24 hours.

The email sent from Vodafone confirming change of personal details

Instead, I tried logging in to my online Vodafone account. Again, didn’t work. The hacker had changed my details and locked me out. When I requested a password reminder, I never received it. The hacker had changed the email address.

I was shocked that it could be that easy. But had I not received an email and then text message from Vodafone, I would have been none-the-wiser.

The text message sent from Vodafone

As soon as I could, I called Vodafone and explained the situation to the helpful representative and was told that someone had changed the address and email address on my account, and ordered a BlackBerry at 12.15 AM.

He told me that, unfortunately, due to the nature of online accounts, this happens to customers on Vodafone and other networks all the time. He also told me that Vodafone has previously worked with the authorities to allow hackers to commit fraud on fake accounts in order to track down their address and prosecute them.

A fraud case was opened and my account was completely deleted, so that I can set up an entirely new one. I'm reluctant to do so, however, in fear that it will be compromised again

The representative advised me to change all of my passwords for websites on which card details may be stored, and also to contact my bank and ask them to call me should any unusual activity occur.

If you notice an odd email or text message from Vodafone, or another network provider, the key is to call the company and inform them as soon as you can. It may be that the message has been sent out by mistake, but more likely, that someone has accessed your account.

The company will take the necessary action to prevent the order from going through, so the earlier you make them aware of the situation the better.

For advice on how to choose a better password, click here.

Cyber attacks have been hitting the headlines this week following two attacks by hackers directed at Burger King and Jeep that took control of those accounts. Apple and Facebook have also been victims of cyber attacks this month, but both claim that no personal data was compromised.

SEE: Twitter calls for smarter password habits following Jeep, Burger King hacks

See also:

The everyday agony of the password

Twitter hacked; 250,000 users must reset their passwords

Apple device IDs hacked: What you need to know

Foxconn 'hacked' by group critical of working conditions

Man who hacked celebrity email accounts sentenced to prison

Smart TV hack highlights the risk of 'The internet of everything'