5 ways you let hackers into your life — and don't even realize it

5 ways you let hackers into your life — and don't even realize it
Hackers can steal your identity
Hackers can steal your identity

In 2016, more than 6% of all consumers in the United States were victimized by identity fraud — 2 million more victims than the previous year, and more victims than at any time in history. 

This bad news on identity theft comes from a 2017 Identity Fraud Study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research. The rise in identity theft crimes has come at a major cost: Victims experienced $16 billion in losses in 2016, close to $1 billion more than in 2015.

Most of the increase can be blamed on one specific kind of fraud called card-not-present fraud. CNP fraud involves online and mail order transactions where no card is physically presented to a merchant. This kind of theft happens when your info falls into the hands of skilled hackers.

Igor Klopov, a notorious reformed hacker and founder of the cyber security company CyberSec, provided insight in an email interview with Mic about some common online behaviors that give hackers a way in.

Identity theft risk
Identity theft risk Nokuro/Shutterstock.com

Here are five routine actions to avoid — because they open the door to hackers.

Posting seemingly "safe" personal info

You might know the obvious stuff — not posting your home street address, or any of your passwords on platforms like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

But you may have written about more ostensibly benign stuff, like your pet's name, your first car or a favorite grade school teacher. You might also link to your brother's, sister's, parents' or aunt's Facebook pages. 

Why does this matter?

Think about the security questions you're asked to confirm your identity when signing into websites or resetting passwords. If your bank asks your mom's maiden name to confirm who you are, you've made that relatively easy to find. 

Same for sibling's middle name, pet's name and first car which are all common security questions. As LifeHack explains: "Criminals can easily manipulate these details to commit fraud."

To reduce the risk a hacker could get into your accounts, consider making your social media pages private and limited to friends only.

You can also change the way you answer security questions. Instead of actually putting in your pet's name, for example, choose a random word that no one will know but you — or come up with a code. If your pet's name is "Nate," you could write "Obuf," which swaps in the next letters of the alphabet.

Posting info on social media
Posting info on social media sergey causelove/Shutterstock.com

Recording a deed or other public records

Deeds are legal documents which transfer ownership of property from one party to another. If you buy a house, for example, a deed transfers ownership from the old owner to the new one. When a deed transfers ownership, the deed may have to be recorded, becoming public record.

And even if you aren't buying real estate, your details might be in other public records, including court, marriage, licensing, business and voting records.

The problem is, public records can reveal your information to hackers.

"America's public records system is prone to reveal vital information including but not limited to property details, family private information and of course a signature," Klopov said. "All of this can be a mighty weapon in a cyber thief's hands."

If you have to record a deed by law, you don't have much of a choice.

However, be extra cautious after you do it and watch for signs of identity theft. Sign up to get your three free official credit reports annually — and also consider a service like Credit Karma so you can soft check your credit.

Browsing porn websites

The majority of malware on people's computers comes in through exploits on adult or pornographic websites. 

Klopov explained hackers can access your system through these exploits and turn your computer into an "unnamed soldier in a multimillion computer army of bots."  If your computer becomes a bot, it can be accessed remotely to obtain info and mount denial of service attacks, among other dangers.

Researcher Conrad Longmore explained to the BBC that visitors to one popular site had as much as a 42% risk of their computer becoming infected. 

While the affected site denied the risk, the very popularity of adult websites makes them a prime target for hackers looking to engage in malicious activity.

If you want to browse adult sites safely, consider running anti-malware software when you're done. 

Not securing your Wi-Fi

Setting up a modem can be really complicated. A lot of people do the bare minimum, and don't go to the extra trouble of putting a secure password on their network. 

Unfortunately, if you don't have your Wi-Fi secure, hackers can access your network from outside of your house. They can record everything that you do. 

The process of putting a password on Wi-Fi and securing a network can vary depending upon who your internet service service provider is and what router you purchased. Your ISP should help if they provide a modem, and your router should come with instructions.

Typically, you have to type a specific IP address into your browser to access your router's settings and then select the option to use a password to secure the network.

Be sure to use a secure password that is different from the password you use on other websites. 

If you can't figure out how to secure your network on your own, it is worth getting help doing it to prevent unauthorized access to your info. 

Secure your Wi-Fi
Secure your Wi-Fi Den2/Shutterstock.com

Shopping online

Most people think that if they stay away from shady online e-commerce sites, they'll be safe from hackers. It is definitely true that some websites are worse than others. "Many online stores are specifically used by hackers as bait to collect credit card information," Klopov said. 

To quickly weed out illegitimate sites, use a service like Bizrate to check a site's ratings and reviews. You can also check Better Business Bureau ratings. 

Unfortunately, you're sometimes still at risk, even if you use legitimate websites to shop. Most big e-stores have had security breaches, and your data is affected when their databases are accessed. 

To protect your data, create a separate email account for your online shopping and use a different password for store websites than for things like your bank account. If hackers access your email and password from an e-commerce site, at least they won't be able to get into all of your other online accounts.

You'll also want to make sure you are shopping online with a credit card, not a debit card, so you will be protected by the $50 maximum liability limit for credit — ATM or bank account cards can be totally wiped out.

You should also avoid storing your credit card info with online shopping websites. While it is convenient not to have to type in your card info every time you buy, having your card stored in a site's database only makes you more vulnerable if the store has a security breach.

Plus, removing saved cards can help keep you from splurging on impulse buys.

Identity theft is always a risk, but you can be smart online and reduce the chances of becoming a hacker's victim. While it may take a little extra effort, it is worth it to keep your info safe.

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