Hackers use many different tactics to steal your personal information. Before you know it, your bank accounts can be empty and your credit ruined.
Fortunately, there are clear ways to tell if you’ve been hacked so you can stop it before it ruins your financial life. I’ll walk you through those signs and share several steps you can take to prevent it from happening to you.
Have You Been Hacked? Here’s How To Know
Let’s talk about some “symptoms” you may notice if you are a victim of hacking.
There are many reasons why your computer, tablet or smartphone may run slowly, but one reason can be a malware infection. If a hacker installs malware or a keylogger on your computer, tablet or phone you may notice that it is running much more slowly than normal.
Freezing, Crashing and Lockups
While these kinds of issues can happen for reasons other than hacking, go ahead and run a thorough scan with your antivirus software as part of your troubleshooting.
If you notice that the light on your webcam turns on and off when you are not using it or it turns on at specific times — maybe when you launch your web browser or another program — that could be a sign that someone has hacked your webcam.
Other indicators: your webcam security settings have changed, or you find audio or video files saved to your computer that you did not create.
Fans Making Noise and Running Hot
If your computer, tablet or phone seems to be hotter than normal or if you notice the fans making more noise than they usually do, that could be a sign of a malware infection. Malware programs running in the background can drain system resources. Run a virus scan if you notice these symptoms.
Passwords Do Not Work
Maybe you’re logging into a website that you used just yesterday, and today that password doesn’t work. And then you try to reset your password by answering the security questions you set up when you created your account, and they don’t work either.
This could be a sign that someone has hacked your account and changed your password and security questions. You should immediately contact the website or business and notify them of the problem.
Searches Get Redirected
You may notice that your default search engine has changed. This can happen if you have been infected with a browser redirect virus. These types of viruses can alter your search engine and redirect you to malicious websites.
Your Homepage Has Changed
This is called homepage “hijacking.” When you launch your browser, if you discover an unfamiliar page is loading, your homepage may have been hijacked.
Unusual Number of Pop-Ups
If you suddenly notice a lot of pop-ups and ads, that can be a sign of a virus or malware infection.
Browser Add-Ons and Toolbars
Browser add-ons and toolbars that you did not install should always be a concern.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
While getting hacked can be a scary experience, there are several ways you can protect your personal information.
Install a good antivirus/anti-malware program and keep it up to date. Run regular scans to ensure all is well.
Keep your computers, tablets and phones up to date. When a patch or update is released, install it right away. If the operating system is out of date you are not getting the best protection. You can adjust your settings so that security and other important updates are installed automatically when they become available.
Turn your computer and other devices off when you are not using them. If they’re shut off, a hacker can’t gain access.
Install only software and apps that you trust and that come from a legitimate source. Much of the spyware and malware that infect your computers and other devices come from installing software packages that aren’t legitimate. When installing apps be sure they come from the app store and are approved. When downloading a computer program, do some research first to be sure the program is malware-free and that it comes from a reputable source. Criminals make programs and apps that appear to be legitimate: They may use a copycat app that tricks you into installing something you did not intend to.
Use a strong password or passcode on each of your devices and choose strong passwords for every website you use. Never use the same password for more than one website and use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Keep your passwords in a password manager to store them securely.
Secure your network. Use all of the security features available when setting up your wireless router. Take the time to set it up properly and use a strong password to log into the router. See my previous article here on how to secure your network.
Never access personal or private information when connected to a public network. Whether it’s public Wi-Fi, a computer at your local library or another location that has an ethernet connection, never access personal information.
Turn off services you don’t need. Hackers use some features on your phone, computer and tablet to gain access to your information. If you are not using the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, location tracking or other services, turn them off and enable them only when needed.
Be diligent when dealing with email. One of the most common ways a hacker gains access is through your email. They trick you into clicking on dangerous links or trick you into revealing your personal information. See my previous article here on email safety.
Sign up for account alerts for the websites you use. Your bank and other financial institutions offer alerts when someone tries to access your account, when a purchase has been made or if there are other changes you should be aware of. Websites such as social media, email providers and others offer similar services. Take advantage of these when you can.
Don’t overshare on social media. Too many people reveal way too much about their personal lives on social media. Some examples: full name, birthday, home and work address, phone numbers, children’s names and birthdays, daily routines and activities, photos, videos, vacation plans. The list goes on and on. Hackers love this and use social media to harvest information about you and then use that to steal your identity. None of that information should be shared with the world. Keep your personal information private.
Reboot your computer, tablet and phone. This may sound simple but it can make a hacker work harder to maintain a connection to your device. Reboot at least once a week, or as I mentioned previously, just turn your device off when not in use.
Don’t fall for phone call scams requesting any kind of personal information. Anytime you receive a call from someone you don’t know personally, be suspicious — especially if they start asking questions or they threaten you in any way. Another trick: They suggest that a family member is in trouble or your computer has been compromised. Hang up. See this from the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website for more on how to recognize a phone scam.
Identity theft is on the rise. The main goal of hackers is to gain access to your personal information which can then be used for fraudulent purposes. The Federal Trade Commission reported that it received 2.2 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020.
Thieves are constantly looking for new ways to trick people into revealing personal information about themselves.
Keep your guard up. It is better to be overly cautious. Cleaning up the mess after your identity has been stolen is painful and time-consuming. Prevention is key.