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Internet Fraud—Are You at Risk?

Internet Fraud—Are You at Risk?

Internet Fraud​—Are You at Risk?

William, a retired teacher in Florida, U.S.A., received an e-mail he thought was from his Internet service provider. The e-mail said that his billing information had been lost. William filled out the attached form and e-mailed it back. Unknown to him, his personal data went to Shiva, a criminal in Queens, New York. The next day, Shiva used William’s credit card number to buy a photo ID printer on the Internet. The e-mail William received was one of 100,000 Shiva had sent out. Investigators say that about a hundred people responded and were duped.

A 56-year-old woman in Queensland, Australia, began an online romance with a man she thought was a British engineer. She had paid out $47,000 before it was discovered that he was a 27-year-old con man in Nigeria. *

SADLY, Internet fraud is common. In their “State of the Net 2010,” Consumer Reports said: “Internet threats continue at alarmingly high levels, costing consumers billions in damage. The number of virus attacks increased significantly since last year, affecting 40 percent of online U.S. households. Some households reported multiple problems.” Before considering how you can protect yourself against such attacks, let us first identify some of the many ways that criminals act.

How Do They Do It?

Many fraudulent contacts on the Internet take place through e-mail. The kind of e-mail William received is called a phishing e-mail. Like baiting fish, such e-mail coaxes the recipient to supply his password, credit card numbers, or bank account information to an authentic-looking but fake Web site. Con men may get your e-mail address by using a computer program called an e-mail extractor.

Some such phishing e-mails can accomplish their aim even if you do not enter data. Your action of opening an e-mail can insert spy software. These programs can record your computer activity. Some of them log keystrokes on your computer in order to steal your passwords and personal information. Others redirect you to a fraudulent site. Is there anything you can do to protect yourself?

What You Can Do

Beware of e-mails that contain suspicious links. Sometimes, a Trojan horse, or Trojan, can provide backdoor access to your computer system, which may allow scammers to have access to your private information. Forums, pornographic sites, Web sites offering software from an unknown source, and social networking sites are also places where con men go to get precious data and plant spy programs to steal information. Also, never respond to e-mails that promise profits that are too good to be true.

Perhaps you have received online messages stating: “Your computer is at risk! Click here to protect your computer!” Or, “Free Screensavers. Click Here.” If you click there, you could activate spy software.

If you are looking for a job on the Internet, beware. Scammers use phony online sites to collect “registration fees” and even personal financial data.

Thieves are now smart enough to access remotely the databases of companies or financial institutions and steal data. In January 2007, criminals hacked the computer systems of a department store chain in the United States and gained access to millions of customer records, including credit card information. In Nigeria, criminals got into the databases of several banks and stole 1.5 million personal identification numbers to withdraw money from automated teller machines. There is now a thriving online black market where rogue employees and hackers sell stolen credit card data and even people’s full identities.


^ par. 3 Awake! has warned about the dangers of Internet dating. See the issues of April 22, 2005, pages 16-18, and May 22, 2005, pages 12-14.

[Box on page 11]

Phishing e-mail: E-mail that coaxes the recipient to supply his password, credit card numbers, or bank account information to an authentic-looking but fake Web site

Spy software: A program that records your computer activity

Trojan horse: A program designed to breach the security of a computer system while seemingly performing some harmless function

[Box/​Pictures on pages 12, 13]

Don’t Be a Victim


1 Make sure your computer firewall is always turned on and your operating system, applications, and antivirus software are updated regularly.

2 Regularly back up your files, and store the copies safely.

3 Use common sense. Do not be quick to trust information on the Internet. Proverbs 14:15 says: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”

4 Do not be greedy. (Luke 12:15) Beware of “free” offers or Web sites that sell products at extremely low prices. It could be phishing bait.

5 Beware of unsolicited e-mails or instant messages, especially if they contain links or ask for personal information, such as verification of a password.​—Proverbs 11:15.

6 Choose passwords that are difficult for others to guess. Change your Internet passwords periodically, and do not use the same password for different accounts.

7 Provide your credit card or banking information only to reputable and secure Web sites.

8 Make sure you type Web addresses accurately, especially for financial institutions. One spelling mistake might redirect you to a fraudulent Web site.

9 Use encrypted connections to transmit sensitive data, such as credit card details, and log off the Web site when you have finished.

10 Review transactions on your credit card and bank statements carefully and frequently. As soon as you spot an unfamiliar transaction, contact the company immediately.

11 Be careful when using unsecured wireless (Wi-Fi) connections, as thieves can steal information and redirect you to fraudulent Web sites.

12 Say no to the question “Remember this password?” Trojan programs can harvest your stored passwords.