How to Prevent Cyber Crime

My ex-girlfriend emails me and asks: “Why is your mate Tom ‘Commsec’ Petrovski messaging me on Facebook to ask for a date?” (Whatever happened to the “guys who talk about money on the telly ex-girlfriend code”?). But more on this strange situation later…

This is just one example of cyber crime taking place on the internet right now. But it’s a lot more serious when it comes to your money.

Late last month the Government released its findings from a year-long enquiry into the rapidly growing problem of cyber crime. Recommendations included banning people from connecting to the internet unless they have proper anti-virus software, killing Justin Bieber, and creating an around-the-clock cyber crime helpline. There’s good reason. Cybercrime apparently cost Australians $1.3 billion last year.

But given these recommendations may take a long time to happen – if at all – what can you do right now to protect your identity?

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Here are my Top 3 suggestions:

1. Think before you click

I’m almost yawning as I write this. I mean, really, doesn’t everyone know that the email sent to you by a Nigerian prince promising to cut you in on his fortune is a scam?

Clearly not, considering the Nigerians (and their mates in various Eastern Bloc countries) make over $9 billion each year worldwide, according to some estimates (heck, it’s not like they pay income tax). Bernie Madoff, eat your heart out.

The same goes with any email asking you for personal information or account details – even if it looks like it comes from your bank. Don’t click on the link. Instead, delete the email, then report it to your bank or to scamwatch.gov.au.

2. Keep your computer clean

Just like on an end-of-year footy trip, your computer can become infected with some nasty bugs if you visit the wrong places. This is otherwise known as ‘spyware’, which, as the name suggests, connects to your computer so it can spy on your private details.

Police have told me that criminals are leaving the drug trade and armed robberies to take up cybercrime. That makes sense. After all there’s much more money in stealing someone’s identity, less chance of being caught (and shot), and much lower penalties than for traditional crimes.

One of the government review’s recommendations is to ban people from the internet who don’t have up-to-date spyware. That’s unlikely to ever get the green light – but in the meantime you should make sure your spyware is up to date.

3. Don’t be too social

How many of your Facebook ‘friends’ have you actually ‘poked’ in real life? Statistics suggests a good number of people who use social networking sites don’t know all their friends. Especially younger users, who can have hundreds, if not thousands, of friends.

The danger is that you’re potentially giving your personal information to crooks with a fake Facebook profile, and they could then use it to rip you off.

There are 50 privacy settings on Facebook, yet half of all users fail to implement even one of them. So when you next log on, scroll through your list and work out who you really know.

Think of it like a crook would – what personal information are you sharing with people you don’t know? Do you have your phone number there, or your address? (Even photos of you in a school uniform, in front of your house, or next to the family car can give away information a crook could use to track you down.) Change your Facebook settings accordingly.

Cybercrooks don’t just work online, either. A smart burglar won’t bother taking your plasma television – instead they’ll go straight for any identification you’ve left lying around the place (Centrelink forms, driver’s licence, bank statements). An even smarter crook won’t burgle your house at all – most people don’t lock their postboxes, and there’s often enough information in your rubbish bin to steal your identity.

Identity fraud, at its worst, can see people take over your identity, rack up large debts and ruin your credit rating. And it happens a lot more than you think.

Oh, and take it from me. If a guy called ‘Tom Petrovski’ emails you asking for a date, congratulations – you’ve just met your first scammer! The real Tom spells his name ‘Piotrowski’. The fake Tom currently has 1,285 friends on Facebook. You have been warned.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23912576@N05/