The Internet has certainly changed the way we shop as well as the way we locate and share information. Consumers in the U.S. spent an estimated 16.5 billion dollars on e-commerce during the 3rd quarter of 2004. Oceans of data are available at the mere touch of a keyboard or click of a mouse. Using the internet you can find information on almost any topic and share information with someone on the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, the Internet also has a dark side. Growing numbers of criminals are using the Internet as a means to commit crimes, such as Identity Theft and the Sexual Exploitation of Children.
Identity Theft is a growing problem. Washington State ranks eighth in the nation for reports involving Identity Theft and the unauthorized use of financial information. Every case of Identity Theft I have investigated shares a common denominator. The criminal used the Internet to gather information on the person victimized. Criminals have even used stolen credit card information to pay for database searches to obtain sufficient information to steal the identities of other victims.
You may have recently heard the term "phishing" used in media reports on Identity Theft. Phishing involves a criminal sending a bogus email that appears to be genuine email from a legitimate business. The criminal hopes you will reply. Many of these emails contain a link to a website. All ask for personal information. Never follow a link to a website contained in one of these emails.
Never comply with an email request for personal information. If you choose to reply, the criminal will likely gain enough information to steal your identity and eventually destroy your credit. You could end up spending years attempting to resolve problems with your credit history and credit rating.
More Identity Theft Information
For more information on what you can do if your identity is stolen, visit our Identity Theft page.
Exploitation of Children
We teach our children to be wary of strangers, especially adults. While important, this concept may do little to protect children while they are online. Adults posing as children are patient. They take time to groom their victims and to establish a relationship with the child. Children in this situation are not likely to realize their "friend" is a dangerous stranger.
Chat Rooms are by far the most dangerous area of the Internet. Many Internet services offer free user accounts, which include email, chat rooms, and instant messaging. These free sites allow users to create user accounts based solely on fictitious information. Criminals can appear to be whoever they choose and seek out their victims via the Internet.
Criminals intent on exploiting children often participate in chat room conversations. They create accounts portraying themselves as children. Some criminals fulfill their fantasies by merely chatting with children and obtaining personal information. Other criminals establish a relationship with a child through their online conversations and then ask the child for information that will allow the adult to identify where the child lives. The adult may attempt to set up a meeting with the child. These adults are very dangerous. Their sole intent is to victimize children, sometimes violently.
Several years ago I attended a course related to the exploitation of children on the Internet. During the course I created a free internet account identifying myself as a thirteen year old teenage girl. Within minutes I was chatting with several adult men. One sent me a photograph of himself. He and others asked me intimate personal questions including the size and style of my underwear. Another investigator in the class who was also posing as a teenage girl was subjected to an adult male's web camera.
Safety Requires Knowledge & Vigilance
Internet safety requires knowledge and vigilance. Be extremely careful with your personal information. Never open email from unknown senders. Establish guidelines for your children's use of the Internet and monitor their activity. Several software manufactures offer products that allow parents to limit their children's Internet activities and to monitor their children's use of the Internet. Several websites offer suggestions for Internet safety.
Investigating Internet Crimes
The investigation of Internet crimes often crosses jurisdictional lines between cities, counties and states. These investigations are complex and time consuming. Court orders must often be served on companies located outside of Washington to obtain information. The amount of data collected can be staggering.
In cases involving the abduction of a child, these factors may seriously impact the successful location and safe recovery of the child. Please take the time to educate yourself. This will not only prevent you from becoming victimized financially, but will also help you and law enforcement protect your children.