The Global Rise of Online Fraud
Monday, July 28, 2014
Computers and the internet have brought many benefits. We can speed up shopping and banking by doing it online, we buy insurance policies and other financial services, we communicate with friends all over the world, and so forth. But the more information we exchange online, the more vulnerable we are to fraudsters who steal our identities and our money. Accordingly, internet fraud is on the rise, and it seems like our ability to use computers has surpassed our ability to keep them secure.
- Most internet security experts disagree, however. They argue that it is possible to prevent most instances of online fraud, but that people don't bother to do it. In other words, computers are in principle not as vulnerable to fraud as they become in practice due to users' laziness and bad security habits.
- The best way to secure our information is with a strong password that we change frequently. This means that it has to have at least 10 characters, and contain letters, numbers and special characters like the @ sign or the & sign. Fraudsters then need extremely powerful computers to try all possible combinations of all these characters until they accidentally stumble onto the right one, an enterprise that takes so much time that you would have changed your password by the time the old one is guessed correctly. Our unwillingness or inability to create appropriate passwords that we change frequently leaves us vulnerable.
- Another common cause of internet fraud is the average computer user's willingness to casually give away personal details to whoever requests them. Fraudsters often ask for personal details in email message while pretending to be a legitimate company or bank with which the user does business. Forgetting that she cannot prove the veracity of the emailer, the user then provides all information that the fraudster needs to break into her bank account or do other damage. The most extreme cases are where completely unknown individuals propose a business transaction or provide a prize which requires users to hand over personal details.
- Bargain buyers often see shopping deals that they cannot resist, not realizing that fraudsters post fake ads to entice them to hand over money. Most of the popular payment providers, such as PayPal, now have security programs where they prevent sellers from withdrawing their money until 30 days after a sale. This gives buyers the chance to receive the product or to lodge a complaint with the payment service. This type of fraud can thus be avoided, but shoppers cannot help themselves when the deal looks good enough.
- The same holds when fraudsters advertise job opportunities for which computer users can apply. Most of us want some extra money, and these ads usually promise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. We don't realize, however, that a job application contains some seriously personal information which can be used to steal our identities.
- Internet fraud will not disappear completely if computer users become more responsible. Highly skilled hackers can still hack into companies' computers and steal information. In fact, governments break into companies' and other governments' computers to steal information. But the overwhelming majority of online fraud involves some kind of cooperation from users.