The holidays are just about here and all across the internet, shopping websites are decking out all the trimmings and the bargains. They are expecting brisk business. After all, consumers in the U. S. alone shelled out a total of about US$82-billion to online retailers in 2005. The conservative estimate is that this figure will rise “only" 6% for 2006. Of that US$82-billion spent by consumers last year, approximately $1.2-billion were lost to cyber criminals. Do you still need to know how much more is estimated to be lost to these same scammers for 2006?
Cyber criminals have really raked it in since 2004 when phishing email scams exploded onto the online world. They have capitalized on the average consumer's fears. This holiday season, the phishers are not only counting on exploiting consumers’ fears but also this other human weakness-the impulse to shop. Your personal computer may be infected with a trojan and your sensitive information may already have been compromised especially if you have been to a site where the offers are “too good to be true". In case your computer is still secured, the scammers can always rely on the oldest trick in their book-the email scam.
Their modus operandi involve sending their potential victims an official looking email from a bank, credit card company or an online retailer. The email would tell the recipient that their account may be in danger of deactivation unless they “verified" their account by visiting their website and entering their personal information. The site is actually a craftily-made but quite authentic-looking bogus site that asks the potential victim to log in and re-enter their personal information. The unknowing victim would blindly follow simply out of fear of losing the account, and fear is the phisher's best friend because it causes their potential victims to act rashly.
Phishers play the numbers game. They blast their scam emails by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions too for some. All they look forward to is just for a handful of recipients to be duped and that could already mean a big payday for them. The steps they take from blasting the emails to setting up the fake sites are also on other victims’ dime. In other words, they take over other people's servers to their job. The trail they leave is almost undetectable. Talk about return on investment!
If you are thinking of doing most of your holiday shopping online this season, pause awhile and give your personal computer's security some thought. Do not fall into the “it can't happen to me" kind of thinking. Most victims of computer viruses or identity theft had that exact kind of thinking.
In today's wired world, no one computer can be truly safe. Think of it this way-if corporations that spend millions in security software and even have security audits can still suffer from cyber attacks, then imagine how much damage can be done on an unsecured personal computer. Of course there are several factors that could have caused a corporate network to be compromised and the list might be very long. But a personal computer's security list does not have to be, and neither should it be complicated-an anti virus program, an anti spyware program and a firewall. And be sure all of them are up-to-date so they can handle the latest threats. Just as Santa has made his list and checked it twice, make sure you do the same with your computer security list before you go out there and splurge. Safe shopping and happy holidays to everyone.
The author is an information technology practitioner, former radio personality and full-time father of two wonderful boys. Learn how to identify phishing email scams, visit Protect Your Computer From Viruses And Worms for simple and easy to understand guides on protecting your computer from malicious software.