4 Sneaky Ways Hackers Steal Your Personal Information and How to Protect Yourself
You have to give hackers credit: They never stop coming up with new and nefarious ways to steal your identity or commit credit card theft. That’s why it is crucial to stay one step ahead of them. Wondering how to protect yourself? Learn the different methods hackers use to steal your personal information, and take action to safeguard your accounts.
1. Credit Card Fraud Detection
Start by understanding how credit card companies detect fraud. Triggering events may include a lot of purchases made online in a short period, especially when those purchases don’t fit the customer’s profile. For example, if you generally make $500 per month in purchases and suddenly thousands of dollars show up on your statement, the credit card company will take notice. If you usually make purchases in a certain geographic area and transactions are made halfway across the world, that’s another red flag.
Review your monthly statements thoroughly to ensure all charges are yours. Protect yourself even further by reviewing your statements every few days. Report any suspicious activity immediately to your credit card issuer.
2. Email Phishing
Gone are the days when email phishing accounts were full of misspellings, bad grammar and other immediate indications that they were not legitimate. Today’s sophisticated hackers produce phishing emails that look real — until you peruse them carefully. These phony emails are supposedly from your bank, credit card company or larger retailers where you frequently make purchases. Some email phishing attempts purport to come from the IRS.
Real companies do not want you to send sensitive information via email. They are certainly not going to ask for your password, social security number or credit card information. A legitimate company email will not include a special log-in link.
Check out the domain name of the sender. Often, it will have small changes compared to a real one, either numerically or by letter. For example, if the email comes from email@example.com, it is probably real. If it’s coming from firstname.lastname@example.org, it almost certainly isn’t. Needless to say, public companies don’t send emails from g-mail addresses.
Scammers try to draw in their victims by using different methodologies. Urgency is virtually universal — if you don’t act now, your account is closed; a virus was detected on your PC; there is an issue with your current payment details, ad nauseam. It’s meant to persuade you to click on the provided link right now, so you end up a hacker’s victim.
3. Tax Refund and Money Wire Interception
One way hackers access your tax refund is by filing a tax return before you have the opportunity to do so. Of course, to do that, they need plenty of information, including your social security number. Protect yourself by never giving out your social security number unless absolutely necessary and you are absolutely positive the requestor is legitimate. The same holds true for personal data such as your birthdate.
Hackers go where the money is, and real estate transactions are a prime target. A criminal hacks into a real estate agent’s account, searching for pending sales. They gather the name of the buyer, seller, escrow officer, title company and other pertinent information. They send an email to the lender or buyer that appears to come from the agent or escrow officer and asks that the buyer send the funds to a different bank — where the hacker has set up an account. Once the funds arrive, they are withdrawn right away.
Red flags include:
- An international receiving bank for the transfer request
- Asking to change a current account for receiving a wire transfer
- No request for a signature or identification
- Lack of warnings regarding wire fraud in the email footer
- An email address never used before by any of the parties involved
4. Targeting Customer Loyalty Accounts
Customer loyalty accounts — such as rewards points from retailers or frequent flier miles — are easy pickings for hackers. Some programs require little more than an email address for verification.
The sheer volume of these accounts make them attractive to criminals. A hacker can steal your rewards points and purchase digital gift cards, which they then offer on the black market.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
An ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. Identity theft can take months — or longer — to resolve, and damage your credit score and quality of life in the process. That’s why it’s vital to take concrete steps to minimize the chances of identity theft.
Make sure your computer has top virus detection software installed, along with firewalls. On your mobile phone or other devices, use all available security features. Only download apps from verifiable websites. Never download an app from an open forum.
When you visit the website of a financial institution, make sure you are on the legitimate site and not a phony site set up by criminals. Avoid clicking on pop-up ads. They are a great source of malware.
Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. That provides an additional security layer. Two-factor authentication may include biometrics, or the use of fingerprint, voice, or iris recognition. It may also include answering questions known only to the user, such as mother’s maiden name, name of first pet, and other facts difficult for a hacker to obtain.
Protect your loyalty accounts by changing your username and passwords regularly, and checking your balances consistently so you notice anything amiss right away. Create unique and strong usernames and passwords to make it harder for hackers to steal your information. Loyalty programs should offer notification of any transactions, so make sure you are signed up for this benefit.
SmartCredit® can help protect you from identity and credit card theft. Along with mobile and email alerts allowing you to solve potential problems quickly, we offer $1 million identity fraud insurance* for your whole family. Contact SmartCredit today to achieve your best possible credit score, and help keep that credit score safe from the damage done by hackers.
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