ID Theft Costs Just 50p - 6 Ways To Stay Safe.
News today that criminals are buying personal identities for as little as 50 pence, should come as no great surprise.
In an age where almost everything from cash to family contact is being digitised, it's not hard to see huge opportunities for scams large and small.
According to a new study on Internet security, fraudsters can now buy your credit card details, your name, address and date of birth for less than the cost of a can of coke.
Data collected from over 200 countries showed 349.6 billion spam messages were sent in 2008, a 192% increase on the previous year.
In the midst of all this, more and more people are handing over details of their identities to criminals, via phishing websites. These are designed to mirror trustworthy web pages, and users are fooled into giving away their username, password and even bank details.
There are no guarantees of absolute security, but are there ways we can minimize the likelihood of falling victim to phishing and other forms of Internet scamming? The following will help:
1. Keep It Real.
In an age of growing dependence on virtual reality and other web-based tools, technology trackers are noticing the growing presence of a counter-trend.
There is a huge and growing need for high touch in the age of high-tech; a desire to challenge the social fragmentation that sometimes accompanies our reliance on technology.
As ingenious as ever, people are now using messaging to set up "spontaneous" live events, via "smart mobbing" which draws large groups to public places for demonstrations or celebrations.
In an age of cyber-this and cyber-that, it helps to consciously and deliberately seek out new opportunities to interact in face-to-face environments.
We need to constantly explore new ways of maintaining a real world 'first life' before we lose ourselves in an online Second Life!
Cyberspace is a nice place to visit, but you shouldn't have to live there!
2. Don't Digitise Emotion.
In a world of instant messaging via Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of other networking platforms, it gets easier to look to technology to provide our emotional diet.
Some people become discouraged or even depressed if they haven't received at least 10 e-mails, five Facebook messages and three tweets before nine in the morning.
It is this growing emotional aspect of our internet interaction which is leading to what Stanford University calls "internet addiction".
In April, 2007, a technical glitch in one region of the US denied service to five million Blackberry users. At the time, psychologists noted a sudden increase in the number of people complaining of symptoms including feelings of isolation and alienation - classic symptoms of drug withdrawal.
Some people even reported "phantom vibrations", when their Blackberries were out of order. I think the message here is not "you've got mail", but "you have a problem"!
We need to find ways of sustaining ourselves emotionally, which are not reliant on the use of technology.
3. Project Ahead.
Much of what we enter about ourselves will stay online permanently - either because we forget to remove it (the more we add, the harder it is to remember it all), or because the "digital echo" is impossible to totally expunge.
Everything we enter online is stored somewhere on a hard drive -- and even terribly damaged drives can be restored these days. Criminologists are able to track digital impressions in e-mails, tweets and other material long since deleted.
Project ahead five or 10 years. Are you entering information and material today that you wouldn't want your life partner, children or even grandchildren to see later? Is there something you wouldn't want a prospective employer to discover with a quick Google search?
Remember, the very definition of privacy is changing. Privacy once meant that something was accessible only to those directly involved. Today, at best, it means that something is accessible to a limited number of people - and the limits are growing fuzzier every day.
4. Keep Track.
Be aware of what you've entered on social networking and file sharing sites and remove anything you feel is no longer helpful to others or serving your best interests.
In other words, do an internet audit every now and then. It sounds laborious, but even a little time spent checking your various internet presences, may save you embarrassment and possible victimisation by criminal elements.
5. Take Control.
Never post information about yourself that the user doesn't need to know -- especially when carrying out transactions, or providing responses to surveys, government questionnaires and the like.
If a merchant asks for information in a way that seems too intrusive, shop elsewhere. It's worth asking: "If I was buying this in a bricks-and-mortar store, would I have to hand over this information?" Most often, the answer is "no".
If a government department wants information you're not comfortable relaying online, send them a letter or paper form instead. (If they don't provide a pdf or doc version for download, phone and ask for one.)
6. Remember: It Won't Stop Here.
As time goes by and more of our everyday functions carry an online element, the internet is likely to become more not less intrusive
We live in the age of the data explosion. Information is both power and wealth today; data is the new currency and someone will want to control its trade.
Gradually, to stop the wrong people gaining control, governments will step in to tighten regulation of the web, not on a local or national level, but trans-nationally.
This is preferable to a wild west of the net, where cowboys and bandits are free to wreak havoc at will. But it's important to remember that by their very nature governments and their bureaucracies grow.
In the end, we will find it increasingly difficult to know exactly what legitimate authorities and corporations know about us. Given the records of governments for losing sensitive data, vigilance becomes even more essential - without paranoia.
Despite the good things communications technologies have unarguably brought us, and despite a cultural trend to trust technologies implicitly, we need to treat the web with caution.
Cyberspace has become a great servant -- but it would be a terrible master.
Follow Mal on Twitter: great comment constantly updated, www.twitter.com/malfletcher.
Keywords: ID theft | identity theft | online theft | internet piracy
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