UPDATED: September 25, 2022

If you shop online, use social media, and sign up for online subscriptions, your information is out there. Those who collect your data must protect it, but did you know that in the second quarter of 2022, there were already 52 million data breaches? 

Now, what happens to your stolen information?

We checked various online safety sources to understand how hackers steal information and what they do with them. We also looked at the latest cases of hacking. Hackers get innovative with their methods, so it pays to be updated on their latest tactics. Moreover, we sought expert insights on how to protect your personal information.

Read until the end to know the most important personal information you should keep safe. Don’t miss crucial security tips; otherwise, you’ll keep your data vulnerable to hacking.

What do hackers do with stolen information?

Hackers commit various crimes using stolen information. In this section, we’ll explain each of them to warn you of the possible consequences.

1. Sell your data to other criminals

Hackers can sell your information to other people on the dark web and illegal forum sites. For example, the culprit in the massive LinkedIn data breach made a post on a hacker forum regarding the 500 million LinkedIn profiles he accessed.

2. Identity theft

What is identity theft?

It occurs when someone steals your information to commit fraud. Common types include criminal identity theft, child identity theft, and financial ID theft.

Javelin Strategy & Research reported that in 2020, people lost $56 billion to identity theft. The massive financial loss shows the extent of ID theft’s damage to consumers and businesses.

3. Account takeover

Are you a frequent user of online shopping sites?

Criminals can also use stolen usernames and passwords to take over your online accounts with payment details. As a result, the hacker can make fraudulent purchases using your card.

4. Phishing attacks and extortion

What happens if criminals know your email address or phone number?

They can execute phishing attacks by sending malicious links and attachments. Hackers often impersonate businesses to deceive you into providing your sensitive information. 

For example, they may send fake PayPal messages, claiming that you need to recover your account. But in reality, they want to get your login credentials.

5. Harm companies

Have you heard of the term “spear phishing?”

It’s a kind of phishing campaign that targets a specific group. For example, hackers may send phishing emails to employees to trick them into providing access to their work emails.

6. Open credit cards or take out loans

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated that there were more than 380,000 reports regarding credit card fraud and over 190,000 reports on loan fraud.

Once hackers know your Social Security Number (SSN) or credit card details, they can open accounts under your name. As a result, collection agencies will contact you regarding financial accounts you didn’t open.

7. Intercept your tax refund

Once hackers know your SSN and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), they can commit tax identity theft fraud. When you need to claim your refund, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will inform you that you have already received the money. But it was the scammers who got the refund.

Here are some alarming statistics: CNN reported that ID thieves could get an estimated $26 billion in tax refunds over the next five years.

8. Cover medical treatment

Criminals won’t stop once they get your information. They can even commit medical identity theft.

It happens when someone uses your name, SSN, or Medicare ID to receive medical care or prescriptions. Hackers may also submit fraudulent claims to your health insurer without your authorization. 

So when the time comes that you request an insurance claim, the company will deny it. Victims also notice erroneous information on their medical records.

9. Open utility accounts

Hackers may also exploit your information by opening accounts in your name. It allows them to have free electricity, gas, or cable television. While the criminals enjoy free services, your credit score will be affected once your account is forwarded to debt collection agencies.

10. Get your benefits

Criminals will take advantage of every situation to steal money and identity. For example, they may execute a stimulus scam using your sensitive information to claim your stimulus check and other state benefits.

Here are some similar crimes that hackers may carry out:

  • EBT fraud
  • Unemployment fraud
  • Social Security Disability Benefits scam

Indeed, it’s disastrous when hackers access your information. They can commit several types of ID theft and fraud, leaving you with debts and compromised accounts.

What information are hackers looking for?

Here’s a list of information criminals can exploit, so they primarily target the following.

  • SSN
  • ITIN
  • Passport number
  • Credit card details
  • Employment details
  • EBT details
  • Home address
  • Phone number

Your SSN is the most important personal information you should keep safe. Once criminals know your SSN, they can use it to access other information about you. They can apply for loans, claim tax refunds, request legal documents, and open financial accounts under your name.

But who do hackers target the most?

Anyone can become a victim of cyberattacks. Criminals can illegally access an individual’s email through Facebook’s complicated system.

How much is personal information worth?

vpnMentor’s research shows that your credit card information only costs $0.50 to $60. Medical records are cheaper since they only sell for $0.10 to $35. The most expensive data involves online payment accounts, which cost $1 to $100.

The study reveals that an individual’s personal information is only worth a few dollars. Still, when sold as a group, hackers can earn millions, depending on the number of compromised accounts.

How do hackers steal your data?

Criminals are constantly developing ways to compromise your information. In this section, you’ll discover their tactics in accessing your data.

Malware

Malware refers to a file or code intended to infect your device. Hackers send malware to access, steal, or delete information from your gadgets.

Weak passwords

Criminals scan the web, including social media accounts, to gather names, places, key dates, and hobbies that you might use in your passwords. Once they have the information, they’ll employ a brute force attack to crack login credentials.

Unsecured connections

Have you visited a website and suddenly saw a “Not Secure” warning on your browser?

It’s an example of an unsecured website that hackers often target. Once you access the said sites, you become vulnerable to cyber threats, such as malware and spyware. Scammers may also collect your payment information if you ever entered it on an unsecured website.

Phishing

Aside from sending malicious links and attachments, criminals can also execute phishing attacks by creating fake websites to collect sensitive data.

But what data can hackers steal from you if they carry out phishing attacks?

They can get your SSN, name, birthdate, ITIN, and credit card details. It depends on the information you entered on the login page.

Skimming

Before, criminals could only install skimming devices on ATMs. But in 2020, CNBC reported that e-skimming is getting more common due to online shopping’s popularity.

Hackers target companies with online shops to get their customers’ payment details.

Dumpster diving

You may be used to throwing old documents without shredding them, but this practice compromises your information.

Criminals may dig through your trash for sensitive information, such as name, email address, account numbers, SSN, ITIN, and birthdate.

Public Wi-Fi networks

Most people connect to public Wi-Fi networks without realizing the dangers that come with it. Once you connect to a public network, hackers can see your browsing history and use tools to inject malware into your device.

These are only some hacking techniques, and we expect to discover more in future years.

How to protect yourself from hackers?

To safeguard your information from hackers, Sai Blackbyrn, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Coach Foundation, suggested updating your apps frequently since hackers use vulnerabilities in older software as access points to devices and accounts.

Blackbyrn also said that it’s a good idea to enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all online accounts. The additional layer of security makes it a little more challenging for hackers to access your information.

We also recommend using a different password for each account. It prevents hackers from successfully executing a brute force attack.

According to Chris Kowalski, Content and Marketing Director of Autopadre, you should use a virtual private network (VPN) when surfing the internet. 

Don’t click links or attachments from unsolicited emails or text messages. They may contain malware or redirect you to a fake website.

But what is the first thing you do when you get hacked? You should change your passwords and turn on 2FA. This way, you’ll get alerts if someone tries to access your accounts.

Guard your information against hackers

Criminals can commit several types of ID theft and sell your data to other people, so it’s crucial to protect yourself from hackers. 

Create strong passwords, share your information only with trusted agencies, update your apps, enable 2FA, and use VPN.

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