Computer Crimes: Are You Protected?

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As hackers and identity thieves become more clever and adept at breaking into computers and networks, lawmakers have enforced regulations that crack down on cybercriminals and help protect users.

The FBI, for example, recently arrested a number of Russian cybercriminals responsible for stealing funds from various businesses. According to an October Time magazine story, members of the hacker ring managed to steal $70 million by lifting online banking information and setting up accounts with phony names to which the stolen money was then transferred.

The statistics are staggering: Agence-France Presse reported in September that hackers create 57,000 scam websites every week, intended to trap the average user. In addition, 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2008 alone, and the numbers continue to grow, highlighting the fact that many users' private, sensitive information is vulnerable online and can be tampered with.

The law of the online land
Certain laws have been enacted relating to computers and electronic communications: The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, for example, protects against illegal attempts to gain access to protected financial information. Under the Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2002, Internet Service Providers can readily provide law-enforcement authorities with information about their users, eliminating the need for an official warrant. And in 1998, President Clinton signed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which addressed copyright infringements relating to technologies and the Internet.

Cybercriminals, however, have found ways to bypass these laws and prey on victims who are not protected properly online. Cybercrime is at such an all-time high that the FBI has listed it as one of the top security threats.

Prohibited activities
Most local police departments, as well as the FBI, have computer and Internet crime divisions, which investigate illegal activities. Some examples of cybercrimes follow:

Cyberstalking: Similar to regular stalkers, cyberstalkers attempt to monitor their victims and find information by contacting people they know. Cyberstalkers may attempt to illegally gain access to a person’s computer to read their emails or monitor their online activities. They frequently harass their victims by contacting their friends, colleagues, online contacts, etc., to either defame them or to gain pertinent information about their personal and professional lives.

Identity theft: As we reported earlier, hackers and identity thieves who gain access to your online bank or credit card information can then use this information to transfer funds or make purchases in your name. Immediately report suspicious charges on your ATM or credit cards to your bank or financial institution and only conduct transactions in a safe environment (making sure the website you visit is secure, for example). To ensure security, a program like SafeCentral helps create a safe environment where you can shop or pay bills online.

Phishing: These scams send phony but official-looking email from your bank or financial institution. Hackers and ID thieves actually send these emails that look genuine and request that you provide them with sensitive information. According to a October 2009 PC World article, FBI director Robert Mueller no longer banks online as a result of a close phishing call.

Non-delivery of merchandise: The FBI lists this as an online scam and recommends that you take certain steps to ensure that the website from which you order merchandise is legitimate. Some precautions include checking with the Better Business Bureau and conducting an online search about said company to see what other mentions it has garnered on the web. In the event of fraud, you can file a complaint online with the FBI.

Harassment: Online harassment can consist of threats and repeated abusive emails or electronic communications that intend to harass or harm the recipient. Cyberbullying is one example, and incidents of children being bullied on social-networking sites is on the rise. Posting defamatory content online -- whether on sites like Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet -- can also constitute harassment.

Online Impostors: A few states have taken steps to outlaw impostors who pose as others online. That probably isn't George Clooney friending you on Facebook. As Computer World reported in September, even the Dalai Lama and Shaquille O’Neal were victims of impersonators on Twitter in 2009.

Invasion of privacy: Intruding into someone’s personal life is against the law. Hacking and reading personal emails or monitoring a person’s online activities, for example, constitute invasion of privacy.

How to Protect Yourself
Because hackers and identity thieves learn new ways to infiltrate computers everyday, it’s important to make your computer as hacker- and identity theft-proof as possible. Anti-virus programs are necessary but don’t always guard against intrusions. One of the best ways to ensure that your online transactions – particularly online shopping and banking -- are conducted safely is to subscribe to programs like SafeCentral, which help create a safe environment for you to transact in by barring malware and malicious predators.

-- Tara Taghizadeh --


Norton 360

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McAfee® Internet Security

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Also See...

Impostors and the Art of Identity Theft

10 million people were victims of identity theft in 2008 alone, and the numbers are only growing. From phishing and pharming scams to credit card fraud, there are a number of illegal activities identity thieves employ.

You. Online.

Do you know where you are online? You might immediately think of the sites where you post and control your own information and profile -- for example: Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. But there are other sites out there that post information about you that you may not know about.

What People Can Find Out About You Online

You have most likely been the subject of Web searches by prospective employers or even total strangers. Your online profile is quickly replacing background checks, credit checks, and many other methods previously used to find information about you.

10 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

As you read e-mail, check your stock portfolio or post a status update on Facebook, you leave invisible tracks on the Internet. How can you protect your personal information from being misused? The simple answer: Be smart!

Top 10 Passwords You Should Never Use

If you chose an easy-to-remember password, such as your user name or even the word "password," we advise you to change it right away. Easily guessed passwords can compromise your personal identity, privacy and financial accounts.

Never Say THIS on Facebook or Twitter

The most dangerous thing you can post to your Facebook page or Twitter account is information about where you're going when you are not at home.

How to Spot an E-Mail Phishing Scam

Phishing scams are emails designed to trick you into revealing sensitive personal information, such as passwords, banking information, your Social Security number and more. How do you know a scam when you see one? Get five clues for knowing when spam is really a scam.

How to Clear Your Cache (And Why You'd Want to)

Clearing away temporary Internet files, otherwise known as a "cache," is a good tip for speeding up your browser and protecting your privacy.

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