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101 Online Survival Guide Part 1

Aug 17, 2007
Tonight after work, while you are lazily surfing the internet from the comfort of your favorite chair, whisky in hand, pondering over how technology has made your life oh so simple, a cunning new criminal on the other side of the information highway is busy setting a trap for you that will end up costing you your life savings and a huge blow to your ego.

The irony being that the scammer's life has been made very simple by technology. Your's not so much...

Internet scammers have evolved into sophisticated criminals operating in various areas on the internet. Some countries produce online scammers like McDonalds do burgers. A scammer operating from Nigeria in Africa is almost impossible to arrest and prosecute from California in the USA.

We experience several attempts per day from scammers trying to access our online dating services. Luckily we have one of the best screening and approval processes around. Credit card details are not stored on our sites.

Up to date we have not experienced any problems although there are many, many documented cases about victims of this kind of fraud.

There might have been several attempts to break into your online banking account. You might not even be aware of these failed attempts. That is, if they have failed.

The more information scammers have on you the more convincing their scam. It really is a game of gathering information and the use of it to deceive an ordinary person.

The information gathered can be used to send you fraudulent emails which point to a website that mimics your online banking website. You will be amazed at the similarity between the scammer's copy and the real thing.

With the use of your disposed correspondence from the bank (found in your trash) the fraudulent email can even include amounts that have been deducted from your account- making the scam even more believable.

The email looks like the official banking letterhead and the "from" address seems correct. The screen looks exactly the same as your online banking screen.

Because users are not educated at realizing whether they are on a legitimate website or not, they can easily be fooled by a skilled scammer.

I still believe it is much easier for a criminal to mug a victim when the victim is walking down the street. Any person with a weapon can rob you and thus you have to be very weary as to where you walk and at which times you walk there.

To rob somebody online, on the other hand, is tricky. Scammers have to be skilled to a certain degree. It requires a much softer, more intelligent approach from the criminal.

The user feels safe on the internet, when compared to walking down a street at night and thus he/ she acts carelessly.

The normal person will normally look for one or two signs of confirmation in order to approve the site as OK instead of looking for signs to dismiss the site as fraudulent. These sign can easily be faked with a little research from the scammer.

It is the ordinary user's responsibility to take 30 minutes out of his life in order to educate himself on how to not become a victim online. It requires that you start looking for signs that show illegitimacy instead of signs that show legitimacy.

Straight and gay online dating in South Africa and the US has boomed into one of the greatest social interaction platforms on the internet over recent years. Unfortunately online dating sites has also become the tool of choice for online scammers.

Scammers increasingly trick online dating members into supplying them with money, plane tickets, identification documents (social security/ ID) and documents used for identity fraud such as opening credit accounts at your local retail stores and then running up huge bills in your name. It is thus also important to look for online dating sites or community sites with profile approval procedures, which eliminates a decent percentage of would be scammers.

Online dating scammers use online users' desire and trust to lure them into their traps in order to gain information from their victims.

In England, for example, you can apply for a birth certificate if you are in possession of very little information about somebody else's life. The certificate can then be used to apply for a passport. Drug traffickers and other criminals use these documents to commit crimes under the victim's name.

Can you imagine being arrested on an airport for smuggling drugs, while on vacation?! For a scammer the internet is the perfect place to fish for this kind of information. Online scamming is the perfect international crime. There are very few barriers between you and the scammer.

When using your credit card, be very sure you are on the right website.

Read every letter in the address bar. The page where you enter your credit card information is normally a third party, for example a well known bank's online card processing page. When entering your card details, make sure the address starts with "HTTPS:" and not "HTTP:". The "S" stands for a secure line.

Make sure the URL in the address bar is spelled 100% correctly. Google the address to be a 100% sure it's legit.

Once your credit card details are entered and submitted, notice how you are returned to the vendor's site. This ensures that the vendor part of the transaction and the processing of your card details are separated and your safety is thus increased.

Setup your credit limits correctly and make sure that you setup alerts that notifies you of activity on your accounts. There are few things worse than loosing $100 000.00 that you built up over 20 years in 20 minutes. With a strategic limit that suits your spending needs you will be safer in case of a breach.

Don't trust emails that point you to sites where you have to enter your card details or banking passwords- rather navigate to the website like you always do.

Don't trust an email, especially if it seems to be from the security account at your bank. Even if the link in the email looks legit, don't trust it.

Remember with online media- what you see in front of the screen (presentation) is not what is behind the screen (code).

If you get an email asking for your online password, phone the bank first using the phone book. Do not use the number supplied in the email. The scammer can be at the other end of this line.

It is astonishing how many people still fall for an email asking them to reset their online banking passwords!

The purpose of this article is not to discourage you from doing business online, but rather to motivate you to start educating yourself on online safety.

My opinion is that doing business online is safer, more cost effective and less time consuming than doing it any other way. It has to be done correctly though.
About the Author
De Wet is an internet security expert, software developer, full time consultant and owner of various straight and gay online dating sites in South Africa, such as www.gayonline.co.za and www.socialcity.co.za
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