Identity theft rises

Johannesburg, 07 Jan 2010
Read time 2min 40sec

Online criminals are latching onto e-mail and banking transactions as a way of committing fraud and stealing Internet users' personal information.

Symantec found that between September and October 2009, more than 2% of spam e-mails had attached malware. This is a nine-fold increase in the number of spam messages usually containing malware.

Fred Mitchell, Symantec business unit manager at Drive Control Corporation, explains that 419 scams remain among the most common types of cyber crime. “The scam generally takes the form of an e-mail with the sender requesting help to transfer large sums of money. In return, the sender offers commission of a ridiculous amount of money. The scammers then request money to pay for some of the costs associated with the transfer.

“Once this money is sent, the scammers will either disappear immediately or try to get the victim to send more money with claims of continued problems with the transfer.”

However, this tactic is being overtaken by identity theft by using a victim's personal information to conduct fraudulent activities in their name.

“Identity theft and resulting fraud is dangerous for both individuals and businesses, and the implications are widespread,” notes Mitchell. “Once criminals get hold of details like ID numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, addresses and so on they can open bank accounts in other people's names, steal money, conduct fraudulent transactions and so on.”

Mitchell says this could result in the victim being made bankrupt, blacklisted or even jailed for illegal activities.

Vigilance pays

To protect themselves from online identity theft, Mitchell advises users to avoid banking at a public Internet caf'e because they run the risk of falling victim to keystroke-loggers that record which keys are pressed. He adds that users should always make sure their banking Web site has encryption built into it.

“Remember that a bank will never e-mail you asking you to confirm confidential details. Under no circumstances should you click on any links in e-mails purportedly sent from a bank. These will take users to a mirror site that looks like the real bank Web site, but is not encrypted and will be used to harvest details.

“If at any stage you are unsure of anything, phone the bank and ask them to confirm that this information was requested, or to report the scammers.”

Mitchell points out: “Cyber crime is constantly evolving as scammers work to keep ahead of new technology, and it is impossible to predict which way this crime will go in the future. However, one thing is for certain, with the World Cup due to take place in SA soon, the attentions of the world, and therefore the attentions of cyber criminals, will be firmly focused on the country.”

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