This article relates to social and technological issues of today rather than theological, but, because of the seriousness of the subject, the dangers increasingly presenting themselves, and the cases of misuse and misappropriation of information on the internet, parents AND children need to beware and be aware.
Identity theft in this day and age is on the rise. Once upon a time it was people going through unlocked letterboxes searching for credit cards, Medicare cards and similar items either worth something, or able to be used fraudulently. With the advent of Australia’s 100-point identification system for opening financial accounts (such as savings, loans and credit cards), electrical accounts, etc., letterbox thieves sought out documents that could be used to accumulate 100-points as “proof” that THEY were YOU: electricity and gas bills, phone bills, bank statements, credit card statements, they’re all worth points.
Today, there exists a two pronged attack on peoples’ finances. There are those who still rifle through letterboxes and homes searching for credit cards hoping to make quick purchases before cards are cancelled and those who seek documents to create false identities; but now there are those who use the phone and/or internet to source such information.
Telemarketing and Viruses
As if telemarketers aren’t bad enough (oops, sorry to those reading this who are telemarketers), there now exists the “help desk” telemarketer who phones to alert you to the fact that your computer (supposedly) has a virus. Some claim to work for Microsoft (or a telecommunications company) and advise that their systems have been alerted to unusual network traffic emanating from your computer, or that your computer has sent them (i.e. “Microsoft”) a notification of a virus. The catch in all of this is that THEY can fix it for you. All you have to do is give them access to your computer: a process they are more than willing to guide you through.
As with most computer operating systems (such as Windows) there exists the ability for someone to use the internet to make remote contact and so take over your computer. From their computer they see what you can see and with their mouse and keyboard they can control what is happening on your computer. By giving them remote access to your computer they can scour your emails, files, web history, etc. to find personal information. Similarly they can install programs such as:
Keystroke loggers (which record all your typed input and then transmit the information over the internet to them when you are next online). Then, they can search your keystrokes for “www.yourbankname.com” or “www.facebook.com” or “www.amazon.com” or “www.paypal.com”, etc and see what you typed next. If it is an account number and/or a user name followed by a Tab or Enter key; then a password and Tab or Enter. BINGO – they have instant access to your accounts.
Viruses (such as Trojan horses which give them backdoor access to your computer whenever your computer is online, and they choose to access it) and etc.
When it comes to viruses, you should purchase anti-virus software (or at least download AVG’s Anti-Virus Free Edition as a minimum). Is antivirus software perfect and guaranteed to stop every virus? No, but they’ll catch nearly all of them. New viruses are created all the time, and the antivirus companies update their software all the time. Modern antivirus software includes schedules which download updates to their definitions of viruses to keep you protected. Admittedly there can be some cost involved … but what is the cost of the alternative?
The most obvious fraudulent activity is the spam email:
“Congratulations, you’ve won…”
“You’ve been selected to…”
“We’ve noticed unusual activity in your banking/credit card transactions…”
Firstly, most financial institutions do NOT email you – except for general advertising. If there is a real problem they will try to phone or send postal mail. If they did email you, it would be a request to phone them or visit a branch. Generally speaking, such emails (if genuine) would NOT include a link to follow, nor would they include a phone number. They (i.e. the banks) want you to visit their website because you should know it; or they want you to look up the phone number on your existing bank/credit card statements or phone book.
Financial institutions have a vested interest to keep you, your money and your identity safe. They do not want to be the weak link in the chain – they do NOT want to make it easy for thieves, thus making themselves unnecessarily liable to recompense you. After all that affects their bottom line and the banks are all in it for the money (just like their shareholders).
When it comes to ANY email communication you should AUTOMATICALLY ask yourself questions including the following:
Why have I received this? Especially when I have not requested information, or am not privy to this topic or a prior communication about it?
How does the sender have my your email address? Do I know this person/organisation?
Does the recipient’s name (which should be you) match your name?
Has the sender got your email address correct, but is he/she calling you Tom, Dick or Harry?
Emails allow for an email address to be set as the “To”, “CC” or “BCC” (blind carbon copy) recipient. Scammers and spammers sometimes send out emails with email addresses in only the BCC field. As such, an email will not have a recipient email addresses in the “To” or “CC” fields, and your email program may list this lack of recipient as “undisclosed [recipient]”. The question to ask is why is this email being sent to no one – other than to BCC recipients? One would expect legitimate emails to contain at least an address in the “To” field.
Do you know the Sender? If not, how did they get your email address? If you don’t know them, shouldn’t you be cautious?
Why does a sender, who says they are from a business/bank in Australia, England, the United States or somewhere else) have “ng” (Nigeria) or “cn” (China) or whatever as their country identification code? For example: “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”, etc. Are they really from where they say they are?
Is the sender using a Hotmail or Gmail address? Why is someone [supposedly] from a business/company or bank using a Hotmail or GMail type account? I realise that some small businesses do this, but the big ones? They want to advertise their name: “trustworthybigbusiness.com” (;-p or some such domain).
As a part of most email systems, you can create a Contact. What this does is assign a display name to an email address. As such, you could type “Fred Blogs” into the address line of an email – and though all you see is Fred Blogs – an email address really exists there. The computer associates the name to the email address. Similarly, you can receive emails from someone where the sender uses a name, rather than an email address. (Some email programmes, such as Microsoft’s Outlook, show the display name and the actual email address). Sometimes it is worth holding the mouse over, or double-clicking on the sender’s name because you should then be able to see more information. Does the displayed sender’s name match the email address? A sender whose display name is “Microsoft Help Desk” or “Peter Smith” might be legitimate, but if the underlying email address is “email@example.com” then it is probably spam. After all, why would Microsoft’s Help Desk use a GMail (or Hotmail) account? Why would Peter Smith have an email address which looks nothing like his name?
Another thing to be aware of is surveys. A survey, be it online, or even as part of competition at the supermarket, can – unless its conditions state otherwise – sell your details to marketing companies. Once your email address is public it’s just about impossible to protect it. If you really want to enter surveys and competitions, I would recommend you open a Hotmail or GMail type account specifically for that purpose. That way your real email account doesn’t get plastered with rubbish or its address sold to others.
Social media websites, such as Facebook, Google+, MySpace and even professional or specialist sites such as LinkedIn have gained much popularity since their inception. But criminals and criminal organisations are using these sites to gain invaluable data to profile people. The thing to note is that the criminals who are doing this are being very patient. They are willing to wait years before utilising the data they’ve obtained. Why? For one obvious reason: they have to.
People who put their entire life up on social media sites are either naïve or immature, and usually both. It is the children of yesterday who are finally realising that their openness has become their downfall. Criminals have had the foresight to profile children from social media websites and, surprisingly to some people, they have even been invited to be online friends by the very person they wish to defraud.
For years they have watched people pour out their life’s history on social media sites—name Name, date of birth, address, school, subjects studied, change of address, change of school, mother’s name, father’s name, and so on. Finally, they are 18 years old and can legally obtain a credit card. With years of profiled data the thieves easily create a persona, a folio of those they wish to defraud. Some even create a false insignificant account to fill in some gaps, and soon enough they have the necessary information, points, or both, to be issued with credit cards, loans and other documents (from licences to passports) – all without the real person knowing … at least until it’s all too late.
Suddenly the real John Smith wants to buy a car, get a loan or credit card and he finds out that he has, not just a bad, but an absolutely destroyed credit rating. What a way to be introduced to adulthood. He then has to go through the process of trying to prove that it wasn’t him who took out the original loans—a process which can be long winded, frustrating and traumatic.
Social media sites have endeavoured to improve their security by inserting features to limit who can view details. All it takes is for someone to create a fake social media profile (e.g. Mary Jones, aged 14), and pretend to have the same age or demographic as the person they wish to defraud and just befriend them online and the trap is set.
Social media pages of under-18s might have greater security on some of these sites, but invitations to befriend fake personas remain a problem. The problem for parents is trying to convince their children of the dangers. Teenagers are notorious for knowing everything – and thus (sometimes) they loathe listening. Nevertheless, here are some questions and tips for parents and children.
Why do you need your full name on the website? Your real friends should know it.When signing up for a site, which requires a date of birth, use a slightly incorrect date of birth. Rather than, say, the 16 June 1999 – use the first or last day of the month: 1 June 1999 or 30 June 1999. Or to make it even more generic, use the first or last day of the year (1 January 1999 or 31 December 1999) or 1 April 1999 (you know, April Fool’s Day). You’ll still get your happy birthdays from the social media company and your virtual friends, and you’ll still know the necessary security information if you forget your password and have to verify yourself.Don’t list your brothers’ and sisters’, mother’s and father’s names on the site. Do your virtual friends REALLY need to know this?Don’t give your actual home address. If you want to indicate where you live, that’s fine. Name the suburb (or major town it’s a suburb of), but don’t give your street name, let alone house number.Don’t list your mobile phone number.Don’t list your school’s full name … your real friends will know what you mean but do prying eyes need to know that the school in Brisbane you go to is “Brisbane State High School”, “Brisbane Boys Grammar” or “South Brisbane State High School”?
The other kind of social networks are schools which create Facebook styled sites for their students. Parents, teachers, schools and students alike have to realise that organised criminals employ a range of computer skills to invade sites and systems. Even school sites can be harvested for information.
Two statements best summarise the advice to be given to children and young people by parents, professionals and teachers. Some may listen; others may not – not that is until it’s too late:
And when youth comes to age for advice he receives the wisdom of years. But too often does youth think that age knows only the wisdom of days that are gone, and therefore profits not. - From The Richest Man in Babylon (by George C. Clason)
and a somewhat comedic, but accurate, motivational statement…
Teenagers: tired of stupid parents? Act now!Move out, get a job, and pay your own bills. Do it while you still know everything!
Purely for the sake of completeness I will address the issue of dating websites. There are the obvious dating websites which were setup for that very reason. But logic concludes that not all who use these sites are honest. There exist those who wish to use people in physical, financial and psychological ways; people who seek to take advantage of, defraud, abuse or just be mean to others. It seems obvious, to me, that going online specifically to find a “date” is fraught with danger. Yet people do it. Wisdom and caution are called for in such circumstances – don’t allow emotion to be your only guide, or to blind you. After all, how many news and current affairs stories must air on television, of people being defrauded and used – before people realise it CAN happen to them?
Another thing to be wary of is web-cameras and built-in microphones, especially on laptops. The skills of some hackers are such that they can sometimes find a loophole to gain access to your computer and then remotely turn the webcam and microphone on. Where is the webcam pointing? Is the computer in your bedroom? Are you sleeping, getting dressed, or undressing? Have you just taken a shower? If you are not using your computer turn it off or at least cover the webcam or point it at the nearest blank wall. It’s one thing for you to put pictures on your social networking site, it’s completely something else for someone to use a webcam to take pictures of you and put them on the internet – and you only finding out by stumbling across it, or someone embarrassingly alerting you to it.
Mobile Phones and Cameras
Most people don’t really think of security issues when it comes to mobile phones, but mobile phone are one of the most lost and/or stolen items these days. What have you got recorded on your phone (or iPod type device)? If there are files, photos and/or video that is personal, remove it. Unscrupulous people have no qualms posting information and/or pictures of you online. Don’t make it easy for them.
Furthermore, there is the unfortunate modern craze among school children (high school children in particular and including some adults) called sexting, whereby a person takes intimate photos or videos of themselves and sends them to their current boyfriend/girlfriend. Unfortunately these private images seldom remain private and before long they are passed on to other friends … especially if a relationship breaks down. The thing that both children and parents must be aware of is that the sending of ANY intimate photo of a person who is under the age of 18 is illegal (in Australia); and some teenagers have even found themselves charged with producing and distributing child pornography (i.e. photos of themselves). As if this isn’t bad enough, such videos have been known to find their way onto websites where they have been distributed far and wide. The last thing you should want is intimate or incriminating images of you available for all, including prospective boyfriends/girlfriends, their families, and potential employers, to see.
Internet security and privacy IS (or should be) the biggest personal concern for online activity. In this day and age identity theft is one of the biggest, and most lucrative, crimes out there. Everyone, be it adult or child, must think rationally and logically over the information they put into cyberspace. Search engines – both legitimate and nefarious – store information from numerous websites for searching and retrieval by just about anyone. So why make it easy for criminals? How many celebrities have to have their phones, email accounts and the like hacked before the average Joe realises that if celebrities (who you think would have some of the most up-to-date security) can get hacked, then surely (I) you can get hacked? How many celebrities have had phone and email contact lists published for all to see? Let alone photos they thought were private – photos spread far and wide in cyberspace which they cannot get removed?
You must be wise. You must be aware; and you must be humble enough to realise that caution is required. You cannot go around in cyberspace with an “it’ll be fine” attitude. There are those who seek to take advantage of you, use you, and defraud you. Beware and be aware.
And finally, after having said all this, we must be aware of one last thing. Despite all of this caution and negativity we must not allow our hearts to become hardened and calloused to others – especially those who are legitimately in need – because of this growing global pandemic. Let us take on board the Lord’s warning …
... because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold - Matt 24:12.
Let us learn, be aware, and remain faithful.
About The Author
B. MICHAEL BIGG, and his wife, Kathryn, came out of the Word-Faith movement. Michael has a concern for the preaching of the truth (or lack of it) in many of today's churches. He has a desire to assist in the education of the elect and reaching the lost. Brett works in the Information Technology (IT) industry.
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