How Safe Are You Online?
What do the following five online activities have in common? 1. I download and swap music files 2. I visit chat rooms 3. I play online games 4. I buy and sell on eBay 5. I'm researching my family tree
They are not only five of the most common activities that people do online they are also potentially the most dangerous as they expose you to the real risks posed by scam artists, stalkers and worse that look for new victims each and every day.
Are you truly aware of the hidden dangers that lurk online waiting to strike at the unwary? I'm prepared to wager that you're not. It's far more likely that you'll be as blissfully unaware as everyone else perhaps with that mix of ignorance and arrogance that "nothing can happen to you" that makes you an ideal victim!
Perhaps you also think that online security is a bit of an urban myth that has been blown out of all proportion by the media and companies selling security software. Unfortunately, there is a world of stalkers, scam artists and even terrorists working to their own agenda and that agenda includes you or your family.
Luckily, there's something you can do about it right now - but first let's look at what really lurks behind these seemingly innocent activities.
1. I download and swap music files - If you're caught in the culture of the internet that is a grey area at the best of times and you think that "everything online should be free" and that there's "nothing wrong with peer-to-peer networks" you face some real dangers and not from record companies looking for royalties!
As soon as you step into such a grey area you put yourself more at risk then normal because the scammers and fraudsters know that you can't really complain without revealing your own illegal behaviour. The same is true of cons linked to dubious websites as they know you're vulnerable.
The nature of such networks is equally worrying as they permit anyone to connect to your computer with the aim of swapping a music or video file. If you look at it as the equivalent of leaving your front door open to the person delivering a pirated DVD and you should become more alarmed.
The truth is that many people often get more then they bargained for as viruses and spyware can also be included with that new track.
These can cause you untold problems with the worst being one's that you only find out about when it's too late. It's only when the letters start arriving from the bank that you discover that a trojan or spyware has copied everything you've typed, including your user name and passwords to every account you've accessed and sent them unseen to the hacker who is busy stealing your identity and running up huge debts in your name.
2. I visit chat rooms - You face several dangers when you enter public chat rooms. Not everyone will be who they seem to be and some have extremely distasteful agendas such as recruiting people to their cause, propaganda and stalkers.
Stalkers are not the figment of the imagination of an over zealous media they do exist and target the vulnerable online. They hide behind several identities that they have carefully crafted to select and test their victims. These are not only children that they are grooming for abuse but also adults that are threatened, conned, blackmailed and manipulated into handing over financial information.
If that wasn't enough there are also representatives from what most would consider to be sick sites in chat rooms and on forums recruiting more to their cause. These include political groups of both extremes, religious groups including fronts for terrorism and well deviants such as "pro-ana" sites that teach young impressionable girls that "being thin is more important that being healthy"!
3. I play online games - Playing games online may seem a harmless activity but it's that impression that can put you at risk as you will be off your guard. Game downloads can contain spyware, especially those to unlock pirate copies and stalkers inhabit gaming chat rooms.
4. I buy and sell on eBay - There are the obvious problems of eBay where trust in a buyer or seller can sadly be misplaced including a recent case when a gang stole huge amounts of money from thousands of bidders by demanding payment in cash or electronic cash transfer and then sent nothing in return.
You are also open to many more dangers. You will receive false or "phishing" emails claiming to be both from eBay and Paypal suggesting that if you don't check your details immediately your account will be frozen. If you fall for this con that is carried out on an industrial scale you could not only give away your account details but also your credit card number as well.
5. I'm researching my family tree - Carrying out research in your family tree can make you incredibly open about personal information. Details such as your mother's maiden name and previous schools are common and invaluable to an identity fraudster looking to open or access an account in your name.
What can you do about it? It's time to act as complacency is no longer an option. Act now to ensure that you and your family are safe online.
About the Author
by Anthony Hetherington
Tony Hetherington has been a writer and Editor in the computer industry for over 20 years. His ebook, Scams, Stalkers and Online Security is available right from http://www.p4books.com and costs just $7.95 (approx £4.44).