Hacking In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. What Are Hacking Scams?
  2. Warning Signs of Hacking Scams
  3. Most Common Hacking Scams
  4. How to Beat Hacking Scams
  5. Fallen Victim to a Hacking Scam?

Cybersecurity is one of the biggest issues individuals must face today as we grow more and more reliant on technology to handle everything from paying bills to online shopping, ordering groceries, sending correspondence, and connecting with friends via social media. As such, hacking scams are becoming more sophisticated, resulting in an increase in data breaches, financial losses and identity theft.

According to a global study, data breaches cost its victims $4.24 million in 2021, a 10% increase from the previous year and the highest in the past 17 years. Further, 95% of cyber security breaches result from human error.

According to recent data:

  • Every 11 seconds, a business falls victim to ransomware
  • Cybercriminals are estimated to steal 33 billion records in 2023 alone
  • Americans are losing $15 billion annually due to identity theft
  • It takes 196 days on average to identify a data breach

The good news is, though, you can protect yourself from hacking attempts with the right tools and knowledge about how they work, which scams are the most common, and what to do if you’ve been hacked.

What Are Hacking Scams?

While most hacking scams are used to steal your money, they can also infect your computer with malware that can be difficult to remove or worse, gives scammers access to your identity.

This could look like:

  • You could receive a call from someone claiming to be tech support.
  • They’ll tell you that your computer is infected with a virus, and it could do a lot of damage unless you remove it immediately.
  • They then tell you that you need to install an antivirus software and send you a link.
  • Or they may ask you to remotely access your computer to fix the problem.
  • In both cases, the support technician is actually a scammer trying to access your data, online accounts, or financial information.

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Warning Signs of Hacking Scams

Most hacking scams require you to do something for the hack to work. This means that if you look for the red flags of a hacking scam, you can keep your device, data, and money safe most of the time.

Here are some of the warning signs to look for:

  • You receive an OTP (one-time-password) from Amazon you didn't request.
  • You receive an email that seems to be from a legitimate company or government agency but has spelling errors, grammatical errors, or bad graphics.
  • You receive a message or email that demands immediate payment and uses threats to get you to take action NOW.
  • You receive an email from someone you don't know with a link or an attachment that you need to open.
  • You notice inconsistencies in email addresses, links, or domain names in an email or message.
  • You receive a tech support call that you didn't request.

If you encounter any of the warning signs listed above, you may be a victim of a hacking scam, especially if you notice any of these things afterward:

  • You can't log in to your computer or social accounts
  • You notice new icons on your desktop
  • Files on your device have been moved or deleted
  • Pop-ups show up on your computer

Most Common Hacking Scams

There are many types of hacking scams, here are a few common ones to look out for:

Phishing Scams

Many phishing scams are also hacking scams. In this type of hacking scam, you will receive an email, text message, or social media message that contains a link or attachment. The scammer will often make the message look like it is coming from a legitimate company such as your bank, a government agency, or a company giving away free gifts. However, if you click on the link it will go to a fake website or the attachment will install malware on your computer, giving the scammers access to your sensitive data.

hacking scams
Example of a fake AT&T text message and phishing link designed to steal your information.

Amazon OTP Scam

In an Amazon OTP Scam, you will get an Amazon one-time password text out of the blue. This usually means a hacker already has your Amazon credentials and is trying to log into your account.

Tech Support Scams

Another common hacking scam is a tech support scam, which is also called an imposter scam. One variety of this scam is the Apple support scam, where the scammer calls you on the phone, impersonating a support technician from Apple. The scammer will tell you that there have been issues with your Apple account or device. Then they will ask for your account credentials for you to install software on your computer, or to access your computer remotely. Either they will steal your credentials or the software you install will be malware that infects your computer.

hacking scams
Example of a fake Apple Support hacking scam email.

Ransomware Scam

While most ransomware scams target large companies, some target individuals. In this type of scam, you will have malware on your computer that prevents you from accessing any of your data. To unlock it, you are told you must pay a ransom.

Blackmail Scam

In a blackmail scam, you will get an email from a scammer claiming that they have hacked into your computer and recorded your activities. They may say they have evidence that you visited adult sites or found compromising data on your device that they will distribute to everyone in your contact list unless you immediately pay them. Often, blackmail scammers will ask for payment via Bitcoin.

hacking scams
(Source: Business Insider)

How to Beat Hacking Scams

If you are vigilant with your devices and are careful about the websites you visit, you can beat hacking scams. Here are some additional tips that will reduce your risk of falling victim to hacking scams.

  • Always keep your computer up-to-date with antivirus software, anti-spyware, and anti-malware.
  • Scan your computer often for threats, especially if you notice it acting differently (e.g., slow download speeds, suspicious pop-ups).
  • Always connect to Wi-Fi that has a secure password and avoid using public Wi-Fi when possible.
  • Always use unique, secure passwords for your online accounts and change them often.
  • Never open attachments or click on links in emails or messages that you get from strangers.
  • Never pay a ransom fee or wire money to individuals claiming they have hacked into your system.
  • Disconnect your device immediately from the internet if you feel you may be involved in a hacking scam.
  • Be suspicious of free downloads on the internet and always scan them with antivirus software before installing them.
  • Use a password manager to keep your passwords safe, but don't allow it to auto-fill online login forms.
  • Keep frequent backups of your system and data so you can restore your system when needed.

Fallen Victim to a Hacking Scam?

Here are some tips to help you recover from a data breach and prevent the scammer from creating more victims:

Report the Scam

Start by reporting the scam to the authorities so they can potentially catch the scammer and prevent them from targeting others. Here are some places to report it:

Protect Your Device

If you notice that your device is acting strangely, follow these steps:

  • Disconnect the computer from the internet immediately
  • Check your browser for extensions you didn't install and remove them
  • Run antivirus software to remove any harmful software that may have been installed on the affected device
  • If you have a backup of your system, the best thing to do is to just restore your system from a backup

Change Your Passwords

If you entered your credentials on a phishing site or have installed software on your computer, change your passwords using another device, starting with the important ones first, like those for your bank and email.

Contact Your Financial Institutions

If you entered your bank account information on a fake site or paid the scammers, you should contact your bank or financial institution. Hopefully, they will be able to credit your account with any funds that the scammers have taken.

These days, many credit cards offer protection against scammers, which means you won't lose money through a scam like this.

Continue to monitor your accounts, even after everything has been taken care of, and report any suspicious activity you see.

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