Long ago I watched a movie where the hero returned home after a harrowing experience only to find that an imposter had established himself there! The imposter had assumed the hero’s name, credentials and even his business! The hero had a tough time proving his legitimacy and showing the world how his doppelganger had committed the fraud.
Merriam-Webster defines fraud as “the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person.”
In other words, it’s how people steal personal data, get signatures on legal documents on false pretexts or use other methods to impersonate another for personal gains.
You may have heard of how common it is to deceive people by promising them decent jobs in return for a hefty amount of money and then disappearing? That’s another case of fraud for you.
Have you ever wondered how the identity of a person is established online? It’s an interesting exercise, and very important for understanding and taking precautions against digital fraud.
So let’s consider the case of any one individual, say me. What proof is required to establish myself as a real person online? Here’s a list of the general data that may be required:
- Date of birth
- Mobile phone number
- Mother’s maiden name
- Bank account number
- Credit or debit card numbers
Very little, actually, when you think of it. If I were to talk to the customer service department of my bank, they will normally ask me to confirm my name, phone number, date of birth and credit/debit card numbers before proceeding. Or, if I were buying an air ticket online using my credit card, I would have to provide my card details. Same for other e-transactions.
So what would a fraudster need to con you? (a) Name (b) DOB (c) Card details; that’s all!
I just know what your response is going to be. “Why should I ever share such important details with anyone? And my children don’t have their personal credit cards. So what’s there to worry?”
True, you certainly will be careful and perhaps your children too are responsible internet users. But then cyber criminals are smart. They know how to get important personal data out from you, and especially from children, without raising suspicion.
Young people enjoy taking online relationship quizzes or personality tests that determine ‘What does your birthday say about you’; or ‘Find out who your ideal partner will be’; or ‘Where will you be in 20 years’… etc. Perhaps you like taking them too? J
These quizzes from unverified sources collect a lot of facts surreptitiously. For example, to find the perfect partner, the user needs to share his name, age and zodiac sign. So the website gets hold of three vital facts that can be misused or sold to a third party. Other quizzes may require details including date of birth, parents’ names, and nationality among other things.
Children also play online games or download content from free sites. Though free, these sites often have pop-ups offering tempting discounted rates for additional content. They may have their parents’ permission to use their credit card or parents may key in the details themselves. Often neither party pauses to verify the site and payment gateway. Furthermore, some free sites require that users save card details with them.
You see how easy it is? The modern identity thieves use very sophisticated traps to lure the victims. Their websites, ads or pop-ups pass the eyeball test and the malware in their programs can even hoodwink the device’s firewalls.
You are perhaps thinking, “Hmm! How can a cyber fraud misuse such details?”
Losing one’s identity online can have some grave consequences. Cyber criminals may use the data harvested online to create a new identity. Credit cards may be compromised and one may face monetary losses. Another pertinent worry is that a fraudster may use the victim’s identity to open multiple accounts for malicious purposes, or even to acquire government assistance or apply for jobs. These may have adverse future consequences for the victim.
As a parent, you can start by teaching your child how to identify possible digital fraud traps:
- Online personality/relationship tests that ask for a lot of personal data
- Pop-ups and e-mails that inform of lottery wins
- Sudden rise in credit card balance
- Sudden spurt in e-mails and social media posts from unknown people
And finally, help your child know how to manage his own online safety (but under your guidance):
- Safety in familiarity: It is better for children to limit their online forays to trusted sites and not take the risk of venturing into unsafe territories.
- Say nothing to strangers: Be wary of sites and sellers that ask for too many personal details. Better to review and research for authenticity before sharing details
- No free lunches: Have you won an online lottery? Has your character won lives or arms in the game you are playing? Are you eligible for a free holiday? Remember kids, nobody gives anything away for free. There is a catch involved and that catch is often a phishing scam.
- STOP right there if your game or some pop-ups ask for your name, date of birth, address and credit card details. Let an adult help you out
- Install and run Free McAfee WebAdvisor from McAfee: This security tool works wonders in keeping you safe. It will mark safe sites and warn kids against unsafe ones. In addition, do not forget to use comprehensive security tools to protect all internet-enabled devices the family uses
In a nutshell, children need to think before clicking. As you install security software on your devices, install the cybersafety mantra in the child’s head ‘STOP.THINK.CLICK.’ Explain how their identity credentials are of vital importance and they have to take responsibility for safeguarding them.
Stay safe online!