The continued growth and increased accessibility of the Internet has brought with it numerous advantages to nearly all facets of modern life. Individuals can now find a wealth of information on the widest array of topics simply by typing a few words into a well-tuned Search Engine such as Google or Yahoo. It has become easier for consumers to purchase goods from distant stores and has brought the markets of the city to the doorsteps of rural communities. The Internet has shrunk the world, bringing strangers from different parts of the country, continent and globe closer together in their abilities to communicate. No longer must people wait for a letter to be delivered by the postal services of the world, when e-mail transmissions occur nearly instantaneously. The list of opportunities and benefits provided by the Internet at times seems endless, but these benefits do not come without costs, risks and disadvantages. The growth of the Internet has also allowed for new forms of crime, new questions of privacy, and new issues of censorship and freedom of speech. While it may be easier to do Christmas shopping over the Internet, it is also easier for merchants to be less than honest over the Internet, and many opportunities avail for individuals interested in misusing information. As technology advances, so do the criminals, and one of the fastest growing crimes in North America today is that of identity theft. In a world where face-to-face interaction is becoming more and more unnecessary, it is becoming much easier to have your identity defaced, stolen and misused.
It was not many years ago that the Internet still had a certain novelty to its existence and use. Individuals who made friends over the Internet were regarded with some degree of scepticism by the remainder of the populous, and it certainly seemed nave to send out personal information to complete strangers via electronic transmissions. Quickly though, times have changed, and while many are still apprehensive about the Internet, growing numbers of Americans and world citizens alike have thrown down their guard in exchange for the convenience offered by the Internet. Despite this, many dangers do exist. On a very simple level, the Internet has provided us with a new form of sabotage and vandalism. The development and distribution of viruses can be transmitted within seconds to thousands and even millions of computers worldwide. While some viruses are simply a nuisance that require a bit of time and effort to repair, others can be massively destructive, causing billions of dollars in damage to hardware and losses in productivity and sales. In 2003, the Sobig-F virus caused over 29.7 billion dollars in global economic damages (Guadin, 2003). Thus, one of the biggest challenges posed by the existence of the Internet is protecting the security of those who use it at the very basic level of preventing viruses from infiltrating the hardware and software of Internet users worldwide (Gaudin, 2003).
The dangers of the Internet and the issues of Internet and information security can also be much more personal than the damage caused by viruses. Identity theft and the misuse of sensitive personal information is one of the fastest growing crimes related to the Internet and information security. When individuals make credit card transactions over the Internet or provide other forms of sensitive information, such as the information provided on a job application, they are taking a risk that someone else will intersect that information and use it for illegal purposes. The danger, however, is two fold. While sometimes the danger lies in individuals spying on the forms of other websites and intersecting information en route, other forms are much more sleuth and direct. One of the most common scams circulating the Internet currently is the use of spoof emails that are aimed at collecting sensitive information from customers of widely respected and trusted companies such as PayPal and Ebay (Bright, 2003). Members of these companies are sent emails that look incredibly like real emails, and the content of the emails ask the member to provide sensitive information, such as their credit card information, billing address, and social security information in order to secure or confirm their membership. While many consumers have grown wise to these scams and recognize that they should never provide such information through the Internet, millions of individuals still fall victim to these scams and risk the consequences of credit card fraud, or worse, identity theft (Bright, 2003).
Identity theft occurs when someone, other than yourself, uses sensitive personal information about you, such as your credit card information, Social Security Number, or banking information to present him or herself as you, and to illegally use your identity. In other words, Identity Theft is the modern day form of fraud. One of the biggest problems with Identity Theft is the difficulty victims have in clearing their names and avoiding criminal charges themselves. Often those who steal identities use the information to commit other illegal acts, which are then traced back to the original identity holder. It is on the onus of that individual to prove his or her innocence. The process can often take months or even years and most often identity theft victims never regain any of the funds stolen from them and usually must pay even more expenses out of pocket in order to clear their name. In addition, identity theft usually leads to poor credit ratings for individuals whos identities have been stolen, thus making it difficult for them to secure loans, get new credit cards or even be hired for specific jobs (Federal Trade Commission, 2004).
Despite the efforts on behalf of the Government and law enforcement agencies to deal with Identity theft and other new dangers brought about by the widespread use and popularity of the Internet, cyber-crime continues to be one of the most difficult forms of crime to control. In the United States, it is now a federal offence to steal an identity, as declared by the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (Federal Trade Commission, 2004). In the U.S., nearly 42% of all consumer complaints in the year 2001 were related to issues of Identity theft, and this number is not shrinking. It is also estimated that an identity is stolen once every 79 seconds (Identity Theft, 2004). The best defence against Identity Theft remains taking cautionary measures before it occurs. It is necessary for the public to be made aware of the dangers of Identity theft and the rules of using the Internet in a safe and protected manner. Individuals must be aware that they should never be asked to provide sensitive information over the Internet, and that when they are submitting their credit card information they should be certain they are doing so over a secure server with a reputable company or merchant (Identity Theft, 2004).
Tim Johnson Junior is a freelance writer, CRWA certified resume writer and career coach. Has written over 2000 articles and essays on the subject of Social Issues. Has worked for Essaymart's custom writing department from 2003 to 2005. Currently, Tim is busy helping professionals and executives optimize their careers at a certified Resume Writing firm, ResumeAid.
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