Today, fraudsters are finding increasingly sophisticated ways to hack into computers and steal unsuspecting victims' personal information and in the most severe cases, their identities. From intercepting companies' chat systems to trying to swipe individuals' frequent flyer miles, fraudsters are enlisting surprising strategies. Fortunately, if you're informed and remain proactive about some of the latest methods, you have a better chance at protecting your data.
Here's a look at some of the most unexpected ways hackers are taking advantage of potential victims and what you should do about it.
1. Coffee Shop Hackers
In a new type of computer attack, cyber thieves are targeting computers being used at a coffee shop or another public place, and users don't even have to be connected to wifi to be impacted. The thieves look for sources of low power "leaks" that can let out information from your computer or smartphone, including your online activity, passwords and other personal information. The leaks are similar to so-called "leaky cable" transmissions, also known as Part 15.
Advice: When you're on your computer or other consumer electronics in a public space, pay close attention to those around you and take note of any suspicious people or behaviors. If your instinct tells you something seems off, you should err on the side of caution and turn off your devices— since these leaks are only possible to tap into when your devices are on.
2. Intercepting Your Company's Chat System
Group chat apps like HipChat or Slack, which are commonly used in office settings, have been hacked in recent months. In the HipChat breach, hackers accessed names, usernames, email addresses and encrypted passwords. The Slack breach compromised usernames, email addresses, phone numbers and Skype IDs.
Advice: Set up two-factor identification whenever possible, and consistently update your passwords. Also opt for complex passwords that are more difficult to decode. For added security, remember to never include any information in an email or a chatting service that you wouldn't feel comfortable with your whole office seeing. During the recent Sony breach, for example, hackers exposed several employees' emails to the public, causing them to deeply regret what they shared in emails with others.
3. Targeting Customer Loyalty Accounts
Are you a frequent shopper at Toys R Us? If so, there's a chance your personal data may have been targeted in a recent scheme pinned to customers' loyalty accounts. The company saw an attempt in January 2015 to gain unauthorized access to reward accounts.
Advice: Use complex passwords and update your passwords regularly. Also monitor your credit card purchases for suspicious charges and be mindful of where you keep your rewards cards. Also, feel free to provide only the minimal amount of information required when opening customer loyalty accounts, rather than inserting every piece of information that is asked for.
4. Stealing Frequent Flyer Miles
About 10,000 American Airlines and United accounts were hacked back in December 2014, and in at least two cases, fraudsters 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
Last year, the IRS reported losing an estimated $6.5 billion in fraudulent tax refunds. Thieves can commit tax refund fraud in a variety of ways, but the two most common methods involve the use of a victim's Social Security number to file a fraudulent return or actually stealing tax refund checks out of the mail.
Advice: File your taxes as soon as possible and opt to have your refund direct deposited. Also be sure to use secure networks if filing electronically and consider using an identity protection PIN, a new preventative measure intended to combat identity theft, for added protection.