(ARA) - Computer technology and the Internet have transformed the way we live. While continually advancing technology heightens convenience in both work and play, it also increases our susceptibility to Internet scams.
Cyberfraud takes many forms. It includes diverse activities such as distributing damaging viruses, stealing money, and posting confidential information.These are just a few of the threats presented online.
Everyone should take precautions against falling prey to these unscrupulous practices. But where do you start? Attorney Neil Salyer, department chair of Legal Studies
, at Brown Mackie College - Louisville
offers simple steps you can take to stay safe online. "Cyber fraud is a broad term that includes any type of action that uses computers or technology to deceive others," Salyer says.
Be on the lookout for cyber threats
"Phishing is a common method used to scam people for money," says Salyer. "People invent a sad story and ask you to send money quickly. The message also goes out to everyone in your address book, with the intention of conning as many people as possible." This type of scam often arises shortly after tragic events, such as the tsunami in Japan, when legitimate organizations seek donations. "It's possible for law enforcement to track the message back to an IP address, but the vast majority of the criminals behind these schemes never get caught," he says.
Another serious type of cyber fraud is identity theft, where someone deceptively obtains credit card and bank account information for financial gain. In 1998, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act
, making identity fraud a federal felony offense.
An email message is sent with the intent of luring users to a fake website, which often looks legitimate. "Once on the site, users are prompted to enter private information such as bank account numbers, passwords and Social Security numbers. Some scammers use the guise of enticing you to click on a link to claim a prize for a contest that you didn't enter," Salyer says. It's important to note that legitimate banks never use email to request sensitive customer information.
Salyer advises against clicking links sent to you in email messages, especially if you do not know the sender. "Don't click on pop-up messages, either. There's a good chance it will expose your system to a virus," he says. A virus is a malicious program that loads itself into your computer and performs unwanted activities. It commonly makes copies of itself on your hard drive, often infecting files, and sometimes damaging the drive itself.
Tips for protecting yourself online
"If you don't know the sender of an email message, don't open it," says Salyer. "Report it as spam and delete it." In addition to reporting spam to your network administrators, you can also forward the message to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/spam
, where it will go into a national database for law enforcement.
"Set your computer browser for automatic updates. New patches will be installed regularly to continually fight virus threats," he says and recommends upgrading to a higher level beyond the free security service. "It is well worth it to pay for protection."
Check the browser window before paying bills online. A secure website will begin with https:// instead of http://.
Keep tabs on your bank accounts and your credit score daily. "Someone with a stolen credit card can rack up transactions quickly. Checking your credit score is a convenient way to look at the balance on all of your accounts," says Salyer.
With a little caution when reading email and browsing the Internet, you can reduce your risk of picking up a virus or getting taken in by scammers.
An international nonprofit organization called the Spamhaus Project has been created to improve the number of prosecutions against spammers. With a mission of tracking spam operations and sources, and working with law enforcement
to pursue spam gangs, they have identified the top 10 worst spam countries. The United States tops the list of spam sources.