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Experts say users should keep a close eye on their internet bandwidth use. ((CBC))

Internet experts say home wireless networks can be vulnerable to repeated use by outside hackers even if they are password-protected.

Many Canadians use wireless internet routers in their homes, and internet service providers often charge customers extra if the amount of data downloaded through their account exceeds the limit set for their particular service plan.

Even if residents password-protect their network, many still become victims of hackers who access their network and download large amounts of digital content.

Internet security expert Carmi Levy says he hears about such cases at least once or twice a month.

"Even if you use all the security features on your router, unfortunately, someone who is really determined to get in is going to," he said.

Levy says people should keep a close eye on their internet use and report anything out of the ordinary to their provider.

Skyrocketing internet bills

University student Amber Hunter of Montreal alerted her internet service provider, Vidéotron, after she began receiving huge internet bills, but she says the ISP didn't help.

'Now, my internet bill is the same as my rent.' — Amber Hunter

Her wireless router was protected with a password consisting of a long series of letters and numbers. But, Hunter says, somehow, her bandwidth began skyrocketing a year ago. Despite repeated calls to Vidéotron, the provider did nothing to stop it.

"I just feel that they backed me into a corner. I tried everything," said Hunter.

"I explained my case, saying, I'm a student, self-supporting. I pay for everything my own way, and now, my internet bill is the same as my rent."

Hunter says her internet bill for the period that the suspected hacking went on totalled almost $2,000, and she no longer uses a wireless router.

Levy calls Hunter's situation a classic case of buyer beware.

"Unfortunately, nobody picked up the smoking gun until it was far too late," said Levy. "Unfortunately for her, she's gonna have to pay the price for quite some time."

Levy says ISPs have several methods they can use to investigate whether an account is being hacked, and steps can be taken immediately to stop it.

Vidéotron spokesperson Isabelle Dessureault contests the amount that Hunter says the hacking has cost her and says her company gave Hunter information on how to better secure her router. It also refunded Hunter for the first two months she was having the problem, reducing what she owes by $300.

"If you leave your credit card or your debit card on a counter, at a certain point, the bank will have a responsibility, but at a certain point, you have to share the responsibility," said Dessureault.

With files from Justin Hayward