Computer Crime Research Center


5 ways to steer clear of online crime

Date: August 23, 2004
By: Tom Gromak

Steering clear of online theft and fraud usually takes little more than common sense – something the average computer user often disregards once he or she is tucked behind the perceived safety and anonymity of a mouse, keyboard and modem.


There is no Nigerian prince willing to share his fortune with you. You have not really won a "special prize." More than likely, someone is trying to get at your pocketbook – or worse.

Yet, every year, thousands of computer users fall victim to one of these scams, usually because of their own greed. In the Nigerian scam – also known as a 419 Scam, so named for the section of the Nigerian penal code intended to prohibit it – a prince or property clerk or businessman claims to have millions of dollars squirreled away somewhere and needs your help to get it out of the country.

All he needs from you is a little money to grease the wheels of government. Then a little more money. Then a little more. In one case, a retiree in Florida gave up $80,000 and mortgaged his home – twice – to help his Nigerian "benefactor."


Phishing schemes usually arrive as an e-mail request from an apparently legitimate organization seeking more information from you.

Recent examples include messages from eBay, PayPal and CitiBank requesting that you confirm your account information. To do so, you need only click on a link in the message, and you're taken to a Web page where you can input passwords, account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.

Despite an apparently valid Web address, the site to which you're submitting information is probably gathering your data to use or sell for less than legitimate purposes.

Most legitimate institutions will never ask for information in an e-mail message. Instead, you may be requested to update something after logging in to your online account. When in doubt, pick up the phone to verify the request.


Online auction fraud tops the cybercrime charts. The crimes: Sellers take someone's money but never ship the product. Or, sellers take money but ship a different, broken or substandard product.

You can protect yourself with common sense. On eBay, be sure to check a seller's feedback rating and feedback comments. Someone with a low score or a lot of negative comments might be someone to steer clear of.

Also: Read the fine print. There are a lot of folks willing to sell you an item for a dirt-cheap price only to gouge you on the shipping. And make sure you're actually buying the item, not "information" about how to get the item for "almost free."

When in doubt – or when purchasing a big-ticket item – consider using an escrow service for the transaction. You send your payment to the escrow and the seller ships the item to you. You get a short period to make certain the item is what you expected. When you approve, the seller gets his or her money.


Protect your Social Security number, your driver's license number and other identifying data. If your financial institution insists on using your Social Security number as a log-in, send them letters urging that they consider changing this practice.

And, if you must, only enter such information when you're on a so-called "secure" Web site. That means the data you send is encrypted so hackers can't intercept it easily. In Internet Explorer, you'll know you're on a secure site by the tiny little padlock that appears at the lower right corner of your browser's window.


Would you lock your doors and then leave the windows wide open as you left for a vacation? Probably not. Secure your PC as you would secure your home. Keep your virus scanner up to date. Install a firewall. Don't use software that compromises your PC by installing adware or spyware.

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2010-09-15 14:50:01 - I was almost the victim of a dating... Cathy
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Total 33 comments
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