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Preventing and Dealing With Virtual Fraud: Cybercrime and Internet Scams

Filed under Detecting & Deterring Fraud. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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Virtual crimes are committed with increasing frequency as computers and the Internet are an integral part of people's personal and professional lives. Identifying and preventing cybercrime and Internet fraud should be on every business owner's radar.

Computers, like so many things in life, can be a blessing and a curse. They can be used to commit crimes, and they can also be used to solve crimes and sometimes even prevent them. The interconnectivity and speed of the Internet provides hackers and other criminals the means to commit both virtual crimes, such as spreading viruses, and real crimes, such as scamming you out of money.

Fighting Cybercrime

As more and more businesses use computers and the Internet in their day-to-day operations, more and more criminals see an opportunity to commit all sorts of cybercrimes.

The Fraud: Damage caused by viruses, denial of service attacks, sabotage, stealing data and attempting to sell it back to the victim (or a competitor) top the list. Now add data alteration, data destruction, data theft, extortion, hacking, email bombs, child porn . . . and on and on.

The Flaw: The flaw is an ever-more-connected world where the crooks are more innovative than the software engineers, and the fact that data flies around the globe at warp speed.

The Fix: How does one attach a value to cybercrime losses so they can be insured? Can computer data, an intangible asset, be insured at all?

What about liability for customer losses due to a security breach? How else can cybercrime risks be mitigated beyond firewalls and spyware blockers and anti-virus programs?

There's a discernable difference among federal, state and international laws (or lack of same) dealing with cybercrime. What's a crime in the U.S. isn't necessarily a crime in Nigeria or Aruba. Standardization of laws is needed on a global basis if enforcement is to be effective.

Don't Get Taken By Internet Scams

The list of Internet scams is enormous. New ones are added daily. Home business opportunities, make $2,000 a day stuffing envelopes, lose 40 pounds this weekend and sell your friends this magic elixir, don't pass up this investment opportunity, act today, you've won the sweepstakes, . . . and the beat goes on.

The Fraud: Here are but a few of the most common examples:

  • Advance Fee frauds abound. Probably the most familiar email scam is the Nigerian letter gambit, better known as a 419 Fraud (after the number of the Nigerian penal code section that deals with such schemes.) You usually receive a long and pathetic recitation of the sad circumstances of the sender who can get millions of dollars he'd be glad to share with you if only you could give him a U.S. bank account number to clear it through and pay a modest fee upfront. If the fee is sent to show good faith and the bank account number is provided, the account will be cleaned out and the proceeds, the fee and the perpetrator will disappear.
  • Phishing (spoofing) is email that looks like it came from a well-known company, asking you to reply with personal information such as a credit card number, Social Security number or account password. They sometimes include a link to a website that looks exactly like the legitimate one for the real company. If the information is provided to the fraudster, identity theft enables all sorts of mischief. Banks are often spoofed, as are sites like eBay. Narrowly targeted spoofs are now called Spear Phishing! Not to be outdone by Smishing.....cell phone text scams!
  • Social engineering is a crime of manipulation. You are conned into revealing, for example, company secrets or proprietary information. The notorious Frank Abagnale of Catch Me If You Can fame was a master of social engineering.
  • Phony "Free" Government Grant offers have become a booming industry in these tight money times, as you might expect. The recent "Stimulus" legislation has spawned even more of these scams. Rest assured that there is no "free" government money doled out directly to small businesses by any government agency. What few grants still exist will usually appear at this legitimate site. More details on this topic may be found at BusinessUSA.
  • Chain letters are illegal for both email and snail mail. Many are harmless annoyances forwarded by friends who have nothing better to do, but others are pure scams. The most common are those that tell a woeful tale of a terminally ill blind orphan who needs money to go to Disney World in search of a cure. If you'd just send a measly $5 to this address . . . and forward this letter to 10 of your closest personal friends . . . a blessing will come to you before sunset.

The Flaw: These common scams and hundreds more work when gullible, good hearted souls respond to them. "My bank is watching out for me and they need my password to test something. How nice." "Oh that poor little child. I hope he can be cured."


You should guard all personal information but this is especially true for any information connected to credit cards and bank accounts. If you receive a request for credit card or bank account information, never give out any information without independently verifying the request with your credit card company or bank.

The Fix: Using spam filters is a good start. Also, never give any kind of personal information to anyone, no matter how legitimate the request may appear. Skepticism is a virtue!

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