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Know the risks and common themes in Internet scams

Updated April 28, 2010

The National Crime Prevention Council offers the following information related to the evolution of technology and crime prevention.

Technological advances now allow people to carry out the most mundane of tasks, such as ordering groceries from the store, to the most complex activities, such as performing complicated surgery, all from a separate, remote location: a computer connected to the Internet.

Since its beginnings in the 1990s, the Internet has grown into a vast electronic network that now spans the entire globe. Because people use the Internet for daily activities, they rely on it for a safe and accurate exchange of information.

Personal data such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and passwords are constantly traveling through wires and through the air from one computer to another. With security measures in place to protect on-line information, most people feel safe on the Internet and trust that their personal information will remain confidential. Unfortunately, criminals have also adapted to advancements in technology and are targeting Internet users.

The evolution of Internet crime
For years, criminals have been using discarded credit card receipts, bank statements, tax notices and other bills (often found in the trash) to gain the personal information necessary to assume another person’s identity. With the technology available today, these criminals have devised cunning new methods of theft in the form of cyber crimes. Now, computer hacking and e-mail scams known as phishing are part of the risk of sharing information online.

Computer hackers are able to enter prohibited areas of the Internet and access computer networks. Once they are inside a network, they are able to view documents, files and confidential data and use it for their own personal gain.

Phishing is a method in which people are duped into providing their own personal data to a thief who is posing as a legitimate business or agency. Instances of these cyber crimes have been steadily rising in recent years. According to the Wall Street Journal, there were more than 9.9 million cases of identity theft last year in the United States.

Hacking into your life
One example of the growing computer hacking problem emerged in February 2005 when an information broker, ChoicePoint Inc., announced that an identity theft ring had hacked into its database and gained access to hundreds of thousands of personal documents. Some of the information that was stolen included full names, Social Security numbers, home addresses, and credit reports.

Many other large corporations such as T-Mobile USA were also recently hacked, and had their clients’ information stolen. The United States Senate will soon hold hearings to determine whether these corporations and information brokers require more extensive regulation.

Don’t get hooked by a phishing scam
Phishing is currently on the rise around the world. Phishing works because scammers are able to construct bogus e-mails, pop-up ads and even websites that appear to be from legitimate businesses or agencies. They inspire a false sense of trust, then send out e-mails asking for personal and financial data so they can steal identities.

Some phishing e-mails may even install software on your computer that could be used to redirect your computer to bogus websites. Be extremely cautious of whom you trust with personal information on the Internet. You should know that legitimate businesses will never ask you to provide nor confirm any personal information through an e-mail or pop-up message.

Tips to protect yourself and the Internet
The Internet can be a powerful tool, and the convenience it offers to manage business and recreation is invaluable. However, theft and fraud are damaging the positive reputation of the Internet as a medium for business.

The following steps will decrease your chances of becoming a victim, and may help catch cyber-criminals at work:

  • Be aware that there are people on-line who would like to gain access to your personal information. Do not share this information unless you have initiated the exchange or are absolutely sure of who is receiving it.
  • Install security and scanning software onto your computer to protect it from on-line hacking.
  • Do not use your name, date of birth, address or any other personal information in a password. These passwords can be easily cracked by hackers. In addition, passwords should not consist of a word that is found in the dictionary, as there are hacking programs that will attempt every word in the dictionary.
  • Never disclose personal information in response to an e-mail. Legitimate businesses would never ask you to do this. If an e-mail or pop-up ad requests you to confirm personal information, even if it looks genuine, it is an example of phishing and should be reported to, the attorneys at the Securities and Exchange Commission at, and to the Federal Trade Commission at
  • If you are concerned about an e-mail you receive from a company, contact that company by phone to verify the information.
  • When giving personal information over a website, check to make sure that the site is secure. Look at the first part of the web address in your browser. It should read https:// and not http://
  • Regularly check your credit card and bank statements and keep track of your transactions. Also, check your on-line accounts frequently. This way, you will be able to notice any changes to your account soon after it happens.

If you are careful not to reveal personal information on-line, and help make others aware of the risks, you will be playing a part in making the Internet a safer place for everyone.

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