So what exactly is identity theft? Basically, cyber criminals steal your
personal information: Social Security number, credit card number, etc. Then,
they can call your credit card company, change the mailing address, and go
on a spending spree with the card. They clean out your bank account, open new
ones, take out loans, buy cars, and even obtain wireless service.
Identity theft is devastating. Victims can spend years cleaning up the mess,
all the while in danger of losing not just their money but also their name
and reputation, with jail time being a real possibility . According to the
Federal Trade Commission, the number of reported cases of identity theft has
grown every year for the past three years, and now numbers more a quarter of
That's where the Internet comes in. It's estimated that a quarter of all
cases of identity theft originate on the Internet. More specifically, according
to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center , email and web pages dominate the fraud
methodology, and the vast majority of victims actually have email contact with
The problem may actually be worse than imagined. Most governmental investigative
agencies and private research organizations estimate that only one in 10 incidents
of Internet fraud ever reaches the attention of enforcement or regulatory bodies.
There are things you can do to avoid getting on the victims' list. First,
educate yourself, about the more common scams making the rounds on the Internet.
Silly as they sound, they have been amazingly successful. These include:
- The Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud, also known as the "4-1-9" fraud,
a perennial favorite that costs victims the greatest average losses (in excess
of $5,000). This scam originated in the form of letters and faxes from a "government
official," usually in Nigeria . Now, the method of choice is email.
- The donation-seeking virus, which looks like an executable
file attached to an email message. The recipient gets a donation request
form to fill out, and it looks just like a legitimate organization's request.
It's not: The money goes elsewhere.
- The Social Security Services Scam, a new twist on an old dodge.
There's a web site that looks just like it's from the government, but it
charges $12 for a form that is actually free. More dangerously, it captures
your credit card number. Say goodbye to your credit rating.
- Chain letters. Yes, chain letters. Most of these are probably
innocuous, but it's worth noting chain letters involving money or valuable
items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain email or
letter or send one on, you are breaking the law.
Common sense dictates some very obvious measures to protect yourself, your
family and your computer:
- Don't download files sent by strangers or click on hyperlinks
from people you don't know.
- Don't store financial information on your laptop. Many smart
people have misplaced their laptops. Never use the automatic log-in feature
that saves you from having to enter the password each time.
- Use a secure browser with software that encrypts or scrambles
information you send over the Internet.
- Use McAfee® Internet Security 8-in-1 protection
that guards against hackers, viruses, and identity theft. For more information,
visit http://us.mcafee.com/root/catalog.asp .