Friday, January 04, 2008

How guarded is your gate?

I recently read a story about a home in a high-end gated community that was burglarized. The place was ransacked and many valuable items were taken. The owners were surprised because they lived in a gated and walled community.

The police told them the crooks simply crawled over those gates and walls.

So how about the gates and walls around your computer?

We just partnered with author Jayne Hitchcock for a new set of lessons based on her book, “Net Crimes & Misdemeanors.”  Not only is the book a real page-turner, it’s also an eye-opener. Look for our new lesson set called Protect Yourself Online from Video Professor this month.

I was once a victim of identity theft. So was Jayne. You can understand why we’re both so passionate about this subject. The Internet is an amazing thing. It’s an incredible cyber universe to explore, learn, socialize and shop, but it also has many dark and dangerous alleys.

Even some of the well-lit streets on the Net can be dangerous to the uninformed. You’ve likely heard of the Nigerian money offers scam where you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be a relative of a deceased millionaire. You have been singled out amongst millions of people to assist them in moving several hundred millions of dollars from one bank account to another. Of course, you will be rewarded handsomely for your efforts. It all sounds, and is of course, preposterous. Yet, some very intelligent people fall for it, and lose thousands and thousands of dollars.

So if something as obvious and transparently bogus as the Nigerian money offers scam fools people, you can only imagine other devious tactics being used to separate you from your money, identity or both.

Twice as dangerous are the stories involving Internet predators. They’re especially adept at seeking out young and innocent kids via a myriad of social sites and chat rooms available on the Internet today. If you’re a worried parent, I don’t blame you one bit, just read the headlines every day. You can learn how to monitor your child’s activities on the Internet. It’s actually quite simple.

Other people will try to rip you off using fake auctions. One trick of some Internet auction sites is to conduct several, small transactions so you build up a good rating. Then the crook offers something of real value, you win the auction, send the check or even worse, turn over your credit card information, and then wait for something that never arrives.

Have you ever received an official notice from what appears to be your bank or a government agency? These look absolutely legitimate, right down to logos, language and forms asking for your personal information. This kind of online fraud is called phishing. I received one such e-mail last week. It had the logo of my bank on it and informed me that my account was locked and that I needed to click on the supplied link to verify my account information. It looked official, but misspellings, poor grammar, etc. quickly confirmed my suspicions. I notified the bank and deleted the e-mail.

Thousands of people fall for these phishing schemes each and every day, and lose their money, identity or both.

O.K., I guess I’ve scared you a bit. Truth be known, the Internet can be a very safe place. It’s a place to conduct business, to learn, to meet people and to expand your life experience. Who could have imagined earning a college degree from a prestigious university via computer, buying a car or booking a dream vacation via computer?

When you were a child your parents always told you to look both ways before crossing the street, you have to do the same thing on the information superhighway.

Like the folks who thought they were safe living in that gated community, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Working with Hitchcock was a great experience. I think you’ll both enjoy and be enlightened by this new set of lessons, available either on CD-ROM or online, which can be streamed directly to your computer.

Have prosperous and safe, 2008.


John W. Scherer