Published: October 12, 2016
3 Minutes

5 Ways Hackers Can Steal Your Identity


Kim Porter

Contributing writer

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A shadowy figure representing a hacker attempting to steal someone's identity.


Fraudsters are looking for new ways to hack into computers to steal your personal information and—in the worst cases—your identity. This can range from intercepting a company’s chat system to trying to swipe someone’s frequent flyer miles.

If you stay informed and learn about some of the latest methods, you’re taking a step to help protect your identity.

Here's a look at some of the ways hackers are taking advantage of potential victims and what you can do about it.

1. Coffee shop hackers

Cyber thieves sometimes target computers being used at a coffee shop or another public place, and users don't even have to be connected to Wi-Fi to be affected. That’s according to the Georgia Institute of Technology. The thieves look for low-power electronic signals from your computer or smartphone, which could expose your online activity, passwords and other personal information, even if you’re not connected to the Internet.

It takes a "side channel" intercept, through a receiver that monitors and records information, to steal sensitive information from your computer or phone.

These side-channel emissions can be measured several feet away from a computer using a variety of spying methods. For instance, antennas hidden in a briefcase can receive electromagnetic emissions. Microphones hidden beneath tables can pick up acoustic emissions.

Advice: When you're on your computer or other electronic device in a public space, pay attention to people around you and take note of suspicious behavior. If your instinct tells you something is wrong, turn off your devices. Leaks are only possible to tap into when your devices are on.

2. Targeting your company's chat system

Group chat apps are common in office settings. At times, they’ve been hacked. The type of information accessed has included names, usernames, email addresses passwords and phone numbers.

Advice: If you use a group chat app at work, it’s smart to use one that’s “end-to-end” encrypted. Messages should only be readable on the sender’s and recipient’s devices. It’s a good idea to check with your company to see if your chat service is “end-to-end” encrypted. If not, it could be time for your company to consider changing its chat platform.

Also, create complex passwords that are more difficult to decode. For added security, remember to never include sensitive information in an email or a chatting.

3. Targeting customer loyalty accounts

Frequent shoppers have had their data targeted in schemes pinned to customers’ loyalty accounts. For example, one retailer saw an attempt to gain unauthorized access to reward accounts containing user information.

Advice: Use complex passwords and update your passwords regularly. Monitor your credit card purchases for suspicious charges and be mindful of where you keep your rewards cards. Also, provide only the minimal amount of information required when opening customer loyalty accounts, rather than providing every piece of information that is asked for.

4. Stealing frequent flyer miles

Fraudsters sometimes have hacked into frequent-flyer accounts and even used victims’ miles to book free flights and request upgrades.

Advice: Monitor your accounts regularly, use complex passwords and update your passwords frequently.

5. Targeting your tax refund

Thieves can commit tax refund fraud in a variety of ways, but here are two of the most common methods:

  • Using a victim's Social Security number to file a fraudulent return.
  • Stealing tax refund checks out of the mail.

Advice: File your taxes as soon as possible and choose to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account. Also, be sure to use secure networks if filing electronically and consider using an identity protection PIN, a preventative measure intended to combat identity theft, for added protection. An identity protection PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent the misuse of Social Security numbers on fraudulent federal income tax refunds.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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