One of the great things about the Internet is that is has made our lives so much easier, allowing us to do things like pay our bills and shop online. However, the Internet has also made identity theft much easier.
Hacking, or stealing someone’s password and hijacking their account for important information, is the main way identity theft is performed online. Hackers have programs that can guess password data and security questions, using the personal data they find to steal from you, open fraudulent accounts, or sell your information to another person.
These are the common ways hackers use to get into online accounts:
You know those emails you occasionally get asking for your account information? These are fraudulent messages sent by hackers to try and trick people into giving up their information. Hackers especially like to impersonate moderators or website administrators because people are more likely to respond to someone from the site.
If you ever receive an email asking for your username, password, or any other type of personal information, do not reply. Real administrators and moderators have access to this through the site and will never contact you asking for it.
Phishing, pronounced “fishing,” is a tactic used to get you to fill out your account information or personal details through a pop-up, spam message, or fake website. They most often take the form of a fake site that looks almost exactly like the real copy.
Pharming, pronounced “farming,” is the most sophisticated form of hacking because it uses malicious code to hijack a normal website. The code redirects or sends anyone who lands on the website to a fake site where the hacker can gain the information they need.
Malware and spyware are two types of online viruses you can pick up without even knowing. Depending on their strength, they can access personal information stored on your computer, or collect information as you type it in to forms and websites online.
How to Protect Your Accounts from Hackers
Hacking is devastating if it happens to you. Fortunately, you can easily protect your important accounts by practicing a few good habits:
- Choose strong passwords. Password1234 probably isn’t a good choice to protect your account. Choose a password that uses a lot of capitalization, punctuation, and numbers. You want your password to be difficult to guess.
- Change up your passwords every so often. If you change your passwords every few months, you’ll be keeping potential hackers on their toes. This will also ensure that even if someone did access your account without your knowledge, they won’t be able to as soon as you change your password.
- Use different passwords on different sites. We know how hard it is to remember different passwords. But if you use the same password on, say, your banking website and your Amazon account, a hacker who guesses the password will be able to access both accounts and all the information stored in them.
- Stay alert! You are your best defense when it comes to hacking prevention. Any time you notice suspicious activity in your account, report it right away and change your password. Also be sure to take note whether or not the lock symbol appears when you’re making transactions online— this ensures the site is protecting your information securely.
It’s important that anyone who uses the computer in your household, especially children, know these tips to prevent hacking attempts.
How to Teach Your Kids about Hacking
Because children often see the Internet as a place where they can openly share things about themselves, they can often be more easily tricked into giving up important information to hackers. It’s important to instruct your children on what they should and shouldn’t share online (or in real life!).
Here are the things you and your children should NEVER share online:
- Credit card numbers
- Social Security numbers
- Account passwords
Additionally, instruct your children on how to choose safe usernames. They should never be using their real name, their birthday, or a potential answer to a security question in their account usernames. (The same goes for you, too!)
For more tips on how to talk to your children about staying safe from hackers, use our Conversation Guide for talking points and starter questions.
What to Do if You’ve Been Hacked
Don’t panic. You can minimize damage to your accounts by acting quickly and calmly.
- Change your password. This will prevent a hacker from being able to access your account again. If you have been locked out of your account, contact the website administrators for help.
- Run a virus scan. Often, a hacking attempt can be squashed if you get rid of the access point— usually a virus. Run a virus scan on your computer to get rid of any viruses you might have obtained from a hacking attempt, or any viruses placed on your computer by a hacker.
- Contact your bank. If you believe your credit card information has been stolen, or you’ve noticed a fraudulent charge on your card, contact your bank immediately. They can temporarily shut down your account to prevent more charges.
- File a report with law enforcement. Identity theft is a serious crime, and reporting what’s happened to you can help law enforcement stop your hacker from hurting other people.