Computer crime is one of the fastest-growing types of illegal activity, both in the U.S. and internationally. While the Internet links people together like never before, it also provides endless opportunity to criminals seeking to exploit the vulnerabilities of others.
Cyber crime statistics are staggering. Nearly 73% of Americans have encountered some form of computer crime or attempted crime on the Web. These types of crime are notoriously hard to solve and sometimes occur without the victim ever knowing anything illegal has taken place. Despite the risks, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from becoming one of the many cyber crime statistics.
What is cyber crime?
There are several different types of computer crime, many of which overlap. Below are a few of the most commonly reported.
Phishing – Phishing is the practice of sending fraudulent emails in an attempt to trick the recipient, usually for the purpose of obtaining money. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to these types of cyber crime.
Hacking – Hacking is similar to digital trespassing. Hackers infiltrate online networks to illegally download confidential information, manipulate functions and in some cases steal identities that can be used to fraudulently purchase goods online.
Stalking and/or Harassment – Not all types of cyber crime involve money. Some cyber criminals use the Internet as a cover for other illegal behaviors like stalking, harassment and in lesser cases, bullying.
How you can protect yourself from computer crime
Though cyber crime statistics are on the rise, even the most serious Internet criminals rarely make the FBI Fugitives List. These types of perpetrators are extremely difficult to track down. In fact, the FBI says at least 25% of all cyber crimes aren’t able to be prosecuted.
However, it’s not that difficult to stop many cyber criminals if you know what to look for. The Internet isn’t totally anonymous, and anonymity is what most criminals count on to keep their illegal activities under wraps.
Keep your family safe
For many Crime Stoppers home is the first line of defense, particularly when children are involved. Be sure your Internet connection is password-protected and your server is encrypted. If kids are using the Web, know what sites they’re visiting and exactly who they’re talking to.
Children are particularly vulnerable for cyber crime because they’re naturally less skeptical than adults. Be sure you teach your kids the dangers of the Web and give them concrete rules to follow when using the computer.
What are your risk factors?
It’s crucial to go a step beyond finding out “what is cyber crime?” and learn more about the specific risks surrounding your online activities.
If you like to purchase clothing online, for example, check to be sure all the sites you purchase from have a nationally affiliated security certification. If you like to visit chat rooms, never give out any personal information to anyone you don’t know.
Also, check crime reports in your area to be sure there isn’t a cyber criminal out there preying on people like you.
Know the online warning signs
The Web can be a perfectly safe place to learn, connect and shop, but you have to know what to avoid. If you see any of the following while online, assume a cyber criminal is at work:
- Suspicious “official” websites that look amateurish or poorly maintained
- Emails asking for personal information or passwords
- Sites requesting credit card information for entry
- Unsolicited communication from someone you don’t know
- Threatening or troubling language
The threat of computer crime is real, so act accordingly
Computer crime isn’t victimless. Millions of people lose money to ruthless cyber criminals every year, and some are actually physically harmed by people they meet online. When you’re using the Web, remember to stay alert, stay aware and protect your information.