When we think of cyber safety, we usually think of our children. Of course, this is a huge concern. There are also areas of concern with regards to adults and the use of the Internet. People ages 9 to 90 need to be aware of potential dangers on the Internet.
Chat rooms are of particular concern with juveniles. MySpace is popular with teenagers. Users can create their own pages with photos and personal information to exchange with others.
Detective Rich Gilleland with the Sacramento Police Department is an expert in the field of crimes involving children on the Internet. He says, “The problem is that not everyone is who they say they are. This is a place where predators find their victims. One way to get around this is to keep your computer in a common area of the house. Monitor the activity your child is having online. You can also learn a lot about your child by going to their MySpace page.”
There are dozens of parental control devices that you can purchase that block your children from surfing in treacherous waters.
As for adults, potential Internet dangers include identity theft, hoaxes, online dating, and buying goods online. Just as we caution children, the same caution applies to adults: not everyone is who they say they are.
For example, when using a dating service, use a reputable company. Never give out personal information. When you meet the person you have been corresponding with, meet in a public location. Use “Hotmail” or “Yahoo” when corresponding with a potential person of interest. Ask for a recent photo, and for his or her name and birth date. There are numerous public records in which you can become a detective and look to see if this person has a history of violence, misconduct, or illicit behavior. Check the “Megan’s Law” website to see if your potential suitor may be a registered sex offender. Use a cell phone or prepaid phone to talk to the person until you know them. Let someone else know that you are corresponding with this person. And if you decide to meet, tell a family member or a friend where you intend to go. You can even go so far as to call your friend with the license plate of the vehicle the person arrived in. Above all, trust the little voice you have inside you. If it doesn’t feel right, get out.
Even I, as a police officer, receive e-mails such as from a man claiming that he has inherited a large sum of money and needs someone to help him transfer the money from Nigeria to the United States. If I send him $10,000, he will give me $250,000 once he gets the logistics of the transfer together. Are you kidding me? What these guys do is send mass e-mails to thousands of people with this proposal. Out of every 1000 people they send it to, one takes the bait. They correspond for awhile and gain the person’s trust. Before they know it, the victim gets bilked out of money. Don’t fall for these “get rich” schemes. There are hundreds of such hoaxes with different themes. They all have the same underlying message of, “If you send me a little money now, I’ll give you a whole lot more later.”
One example of this was a case in which a 37-year-old divorced mother of two met someone on MySpace. She started what she thought was a romantic relationship with him. The correspondence migrated to Yahoo. The person whom she thought was a corporate lawyer from Fremont, California was actually a scammer operating out of the Benin Republic. At some point, he started to have items purchased with stolen credit cards shipped to her for her to re-ship to Benin. When the Sacramento Police Department got involved, she had just received four cases of Dom Perignon champagne worth approximately $5,000. The champagne is now booked into our police property. Had she shipped the champagne, she might have been a party to a felony. Be careful!
When buying goods and services online, make sure the venue that you are using is legitimate. Auction sites like eBay and Craig’s List have a good reputation. Using PayPal is the safest way to pay for these services. PayPal will never send you an e-mail saying that they need to update your account. I get these all the time from bogus sources and you may too through your e-mail address. Never respond to them. If you suspect that there is something wrong with your account, go to the PayPal site. What happens is imposters posing as “PayPal” will say that there is an issue with your account. When you click on the e-mail, it will say that PayPal needs to update your account. They will then ask for your credit card or bank account information. Once they have that, they can milk money out of your accounts.
Lastly, be cautious when opening e-mails from unknown sources. A computer virus can wipe out your entire hard drive causing a great expense and hassle for you and your family. There are computer virus scanning devices available, some of which are completely free.
Remember: Cyber safety isn’t just for kids!
Officer Michelle Lazark