Cybercrimes: online recreation could lead to safety risks

This phishing attempt sent to UW Colleges students is one way in which cybercriminals steal information.

In the age of technology, just about anything can be done online: order dinner, read an e-book, connect with friends and family via social media, watch videos, play video games and even find a date or mate, if so inclined. The options are endless. What once required leaving the comfort of home can now be done with the click of a button or by swiping right.

While it would seem as if people would be safer behind their computer screens, this is not true. In a desire for privacy, they have opened ourselves up to the contrary, as there are multiple ways we can become victims of cybercrimes. Many cyber criminals have advanced techniques, such as hiding or even forging an IP address, that are all but untraceable today. It is often very difficult for law enforcement to catch an Internet thief, sometimes known as grifters.

“Many times it’s hard for [law enforcement] to trace crimes online. They just don’t have the time or resources. You need to be responsible for your own safety by using only secured sites, and investing in a good antivirus program and keeping it up to date. Also, you can go through your bank on many sites, having to secure your password and bank account information before using your [credit] card online. That makes it harder for a person who’s trying to use your card, because they probably don’t have all that information too,” Tom Hoffman, IT specialist at area business Dynamic Drinkware, said.

The most obvious form of Internet crime is credit card theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates around nine million people are victims of these crimes annually. While this number sounds high, in relation to the population, it actually isn’t. Only three percent of people are victims of these crimes, according to the FTC. Many are very cautious, and may use things like pre-paid debit cards or PayPal, or do not allow sites save their personal information after a purchase, or logging in a as a guest, and not having any personal information saved under an account.

“I choose what sites I use carefully, and do not give personal information,” UW-Fox Freshman Logan Turgeon said. “Luckily, I have never been a victim of [credit card, or identity] theft.”

A less obvious form of Internet crime occurs through social media. Many are unaware of how much information they are giving up about themselves when they sign up for a Facebook, Twitter or even an Instagram or Snapchat account. Often one account’s information can be linked to another. Therefore, all information shared on any of these social accounts is shared to all accounts. Through personal information posted on these sites, a cybercriminal can easily track his victim simply by his Instagram pictures or posts on Facebook. While one may be bragging about that exciting spring break vacation trip to Acapulco by sharing pictures to friends and family via Instagram, an Internet opportunist could use that information as a tool, gaining knowledge that a person is away from home. One could return from that glorious vacation to find his MacBook, PS4 or other treasured belongings stolen.

“When posting my personal information on social media sites, I skip a lot of the questions, or even lie about information so that I can’t be tracked or found. I never put all my information out there,” Rachel Weinberg, a UW-Fox freshman, said.

Experts agree.

Computer Lab
Cyber safety is a constant priority for UW-Fox students who use the Internet for daily coursework. · photo by Debra Ruff

“The best way to avoid being hacked or scammed on these [sites] is definitely by providing less personal information, and by not clicking on posts that seem to be not legit or from people we don’t know,” Jorge Reyes, IT specialist at local computer repair and tech store IT Evolution, said.

Many crimes online aren’t as straightforward as stolen identity or credit card numbers. Other crimes are more insidious, such as cyberbullying or stalking. These types of crimes are far more common than crimes on the Internet involving money, or identity. Many do not realize that these are crimes, but they can be prosecuted as such. Cyberbullying is particularly alarming, with 54 percent of teens on Facebook saying they had been bullied online, and 28 percent of teens stating the same on Twitter, according to national statistics. Many say they go online daily, simply to make sure nobody is posting embarrassing pictures, or saying mean things about them.

Kayla Root, UW-Fox sophomore, has had personal experience with this kind of Internet crime.

“Internet bullying is definitely a problem. I once ran a website that was attacked by bullies online. It was really scary, because the bully hacked into four separate accounts before I could shut the website down,” Root said.

However, there are certain benefits to being able to connect online with others. There are many appealing aspects involving dating sites such as Tinder, Yik-Yak or Plenty of Fish. Many students are busy with work, school and homework, and do not have much time to get out and connect socially with potential partners. Many use these sites as a confidence booster, and as much as one might collect phone numbers from potential dates in a club or bar, some like to collect matches on these sites.

“Some of my friends go for as many matches as they can get,” Turgeon said. “It’s a numbers game, and a confidence booster. It helps them feel good about themselves, and gives them a lot of options for dates.”

With a bit of common sense and cyber-savvy, one can avoid many potentially precarious situations on the Internet, therefore enabling them more time to enjoy themselves pursuing interests and passions online, and of course, perusing the occasional YouTube cat video.

“Just use common sense. Don’t put all your information out there, and make sure you know what sites you’re sharing your information with. Many people don’t always check sites, and that can lead to a lot of problems. If it seems like it’s not a good site, it probably isn’t,” Hoffman said.