The Internet is an amazing tool for communication, allowing users to connect instantly over great distances. Unfortunately, the reach and anonymity the network provides is also a great tool for criminals, who have taken advantage of the global network to ply their trade. There are many different types of cyber crime, and understanding the most common crimes and frauds can help you avoid becoming a victim.
One common form of cyber crime is identity theft. Hackers and scammers may use fake emails to trick victims into giving up passwords and account information, or they may use specialized programs called keyloggers to track what a user types when logging into bank or credit accounts. Once they have this personal information, they may be able to access existing accounts or make purchases with the victim’s credit cards. If a hacker can discover a user’s social security number and other identifying information, he can parlay that data into credit accounts in the victim’s name and cause considerable damage.
Simple financial fraud is another common crime in the online arena. A scammer may offer an item for sale through an auction site with no intention of delivering once he receives payment. Alternatively, a criminal might purchase an item for sale using a stolen credit card, or claim a fraudulent chargeback after receiving the goods.
Advance Fee Fraud
One common crime is the advance fee fraud. These frauds, also known as 419 scams after the portion of the Nigerian criminal code relating to fraud, involve bilking victims out of money by promising them an eventual payoff. The scammer emails his victim with news of some financial windfall, often represented as the wealth of a distant relative or the remnants of some other illicit fortune. All the victim needs to do to claim this wealth is provide some identifying information and pay a few incidental expenses. The lure of easy wealth has found many victims for the perpetrators of these frauds, with some individual marks losing thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Another cyber crime is the practice of hacking, illegally circumventing security to access someone else’s computer system. Some hackers explore for sheer curiosity, finding their way into unfamiliar systems for love of the challenge, in some cases going so far as to alert system owners to security loopholes. Others hack for their own reasons, either to steal information, gain control over systems for their own purposes, or simply to cause as much damage and chaos as possible.
Piracy is the copying and distribution of programs, movies, music or other intellectual property without permission. Groups of dedicated pirates take the source material, remove any protection the data might have and then pass the unprotected results on to file sharing networks and distribution sites. The movie and recording industries in particular have fought the misuse of their intellectual property by filing extensive lawsuits against file sharers, while software companies fight piracy through expanded and intrusive copy protection schemes.
Other crimes which exist in the offline world may also take place online. Those who trade in child pornography, for instance, often take advantage of the anonymity provided by the Internet when interacting with their fellow criminals. The drug trade also has an online component, as dealers use alternative currencies and anonymous Web providers to peddle their wares. Even users looking for legal drugs may find a gray market on the Internet where they can purchase medications without a prescription from other countries, although in some cases these sellers may provide expired, incorrect, or even dangerous compounds to unwitting purchasers.
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