Protecting Yourself against Cyber Crime
Now that you know about the various frauds that are prevalent on the Internet and have looked at the relevant laws, you might be wondering what you can do to protect yourself. There are several specific steps you can take to minimize the chances of being the victim of Internet crime. There are also some clear guidelines on how you should handle the situation, should you become a victim.
Protecting against Investment Fraud
To protect yourself against investment fraud, follow these guidelines:
- Only invest with well-known, reputable brokers.
- If it sounds too good to be true, then avoid it.
- Ask yourself why this person is informing you of this great investment deal. Why would a complete stranger decide to share some incredible investment opportunity with you?
- Remember that even legitimate investment involves risk, so never invest money that you cannot afford to lose.
Protecting against Identity Theft
When the issue is identity theft, your steps are clear:
- Do not provide your personal information to anyone if it is not absolutely necessary. This rule means that when communicating on the Internet with anyone you do not personally know, do not reveal anything about yourself; not your age, occupation, real name, nothing.
- Destroy documents that have personal information on them. If you simply throw away bank statements and credit card bills, then someone rummaging through your trash can get a great deal of personal data. You can obtain a paper shredder from an office supply store or many retail department stores for less than $20. Shred these documents before disposing of them. This rule may not seem like it is related to computer security, but information gathered through nontechnical means can be used in conjunction with the Internet to perpetrate identity theft.
- Check your credit frequently. Many websites, including www.consumerinfo.com, allow you to check your credit and even get your beacon score for a nominal fee. I check my credit twice per year. If you see any items you did not authorize, that is a clear indication that you might be a victim of identity theft.
- If your state has online driving records, then check yours once per year. If you see driving infractions that you did not commit, this evidence is a clear sign that your identity is being used by someone else. In an upcoming chapter on cyber detective work, we will explore in detail how to obtain such records online, often for less than $5.
To summarize, the first step in preventing identity theft is restricting the amount of personal information you make available. The next step is simply monitoring your credit and driving records so that you will be aware if someone attempts to use your identity.
Another part of protecting your identity is protecting your privacy in general. That task means preventing others from gaining information about you that you don’t explicitly provide them. That preventative method includes keeping websites from gathering information about you without your knowledge. Many websites store information about you and your visit to their site in small files called cookies. These cookie files are stored on your machine. The problem with cookies is that any website can read any cookie on your machine, even ones that the website you are currently visiting did not create. So if you visit one website and it stores items like your name, the site you visited, and the time you where there, then another website could potentially read that cookie and know where you have been on the Internet. One of the best ways to stop cookies you don’t want is anti-spyware software. We will discuss such software in more detail in a later chapter. Right now, let’s see how to change your Internet settings to help reduce exposures to your privacy.
Secure Browser Settings
If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer, you can go to Tools and use the drop-down menu; then select Options. You will then see a screen much like the one shown in Figure 3.1. You can then select the third tab, labeled Privacy.
Figure 3.1. Internet Explorer options.
When you select that Privacy tab, you will see the screen shown in Figure 3.2. Notice the sliding bar on the left that lets you select various levels of general protection against cookies. It is recommended that you select Medium High as your level.
Figure 3.2. Internet Explorer privacy options.
Note the Advanced button at the bottom of the screen. This button allows you to block or allow individual websites from creating cookies on your computer’s hard drive. Altering cookie settings on your machine is just one part of protecting your privacy, but it is an important part.
You probably also want to ensure that you have selected the In Private browsing option, also shown in Figure 3.2.
If you are working with Firefox, the process is similar. You select Tools from the drop-down menu, then select Options. You will then see the screen shown in Figure 3.3.
Figure 3.3. Firefox options.
Notice the Privacy option and you will see a screen much like the one shown in Figure 3.4.
Figure 3.4. Firefox privacy.
Figure 3.5. Firefox security.
I recommend selecting High Security. Also, I would only allow first-party cookies. Third-party cookies are notorious for behaving in ways that violate user privacy. We will discuss cookies and spyware in much more detail in a later chapter, but the simple steps just examined can go a long way toward helping to secure your privacy.
Dealing with auction fraud involves a different set of precautions; here are four good ideas.
- Only use reputable auction sites. The most well-known site is eBay, but any widely known, reputable site will be a safer gamble. Such auction sites tend to take precautions to prevent fraud and abuse.
- If it sounds too good to be true, don’t bid.
- Some sites actually allow you to read feedback other buyers have provided on a given seller. Read the feedback, and only work with reputable sellers.
- When possible use a separate credit card, one with a low limit, for online auctions. That way, should your credit card be compromised, your liability is limited. Using your debit card is simply inviting trouble.
Online auctions can be a very good way to get valuable merchandise at low prices. However one must exercise some degree of caution when using these services.
Protecting yourself from online harassment also has its own guidelines:
- If you use chat rooms, discussion boards, and so forth, do not use your real name. Set up a separate email account with an anonymous service, such as Yahoo!, Gmail, or Hotmail. Then use that account and a fake name online. This makes it very hard for an online stalker to trace back to you personally.
- If you are the victim of online harassment, keep all the emails in both digital and printed format. Use some the investigative techniques we will explore later in this book to try and identify the perpetrator. If you are successful, then you can take the emails and the information on the perpetrator to law enforcement officials.
- Do not, in any case, ignore cyber stalking. According to the Working to Halt Online Abuse website,14 19% of cyber stalking cases escalate to stalking in the real world.
It is not the intent of this chapter or of this book to make you frightened about using the Internet. My family routinely uses the Internet for entertainment, commerce, and informational purposes. One simply needs to exercise some caution when using the Internet.