In my last post, I described the cybercrime “marketplace” where criminals can:
* Find the resources they need
* Find other criminals who will provide the specialized services they need
* Find other criminals to work with as they engage in their criminal activities
In this post, I want to talk about cybercrime from a different angle.
But first, let’s talk about what YOU do.
If you are looking for something, what do you do?
Perhaps it’s a product or a service you want. You probably will do a search using a search engine. Or, if you have an idea where you might find it, you may go to the site that you think has it. That may be the web site for a local store, or a place like Amazon.com.
If you are looking for an item at a discount, and you don’t mind if it has been used, you might go to a site like craigslist or to an online auction site like eBay.
What if you are looking for people? If you are looking for friends, you may go to Facebook. If you are looking for business connections, you’d probably go to LinkedIn. If you are looking for a romantic relationship, you’d go to a dating site. You might also choose to connect with people through a site like Periscope, which allows you to broadcast a live video online using your cellphone. People can watch and give their feedback on how they like your broadcast (called a “scope”). Or maybe you want to meet in person with people in your area. You can find them through Meetup.
There are all sorts of sites available to find things you want and to connect with other people.
How do you think criminals find what they want? Wouldn’t they do the same thing the rest of us do?
If they are searching for victims, they can go online. Of course, they aren’t likely to find what they are looking for by searching for “victims.” But, they will probably go to the sites where the people they are looking for hang out.
In the last few weeks, I have heard several news stories.
Someone responded to an ad on craigslist and the “buyer” ended up robbing them. There are quite a number of instances of robberies and even murders that have occurred as a result of criminals using craigslist to find the things they want or the people they want to take advantage of. In fact, the reporter informed us that the police are allowing people to complete their transactions at the local police station or sheriff’s office. That suggests that the problem is large enough for the police to designate their building as a safe harbor to conduct that kind of transaction.
A week or so later, there was a story on the news of a murder. it is thought that the murderer found their victim by using a dating app. In a similar story a few months earlier, another murder was committed on a date that was made through an online dating service. A man went on a date with a woman he met throught that site. On the second date, the woman showed up with some men who robbed the man and killed him.
There have also been instances of crimes taking place by making use of the Uber and the Lyft transportation (“taxi”) services.
These sites are great resources for people to find what they need and most of the transactions that take place from using them do not result in a crime. However, what we often don’t realize is that those same resources are available to criminals.
Just some of the ways criminals might use the Internet:
* To sell you poor quality, counterfeit, or stolen merchandise
– Discount sites, auction sites, sites that feature special deals or offers
– Sending e-mails or placing ads that make these special offers
(Some of the things they might be selling are discount medication, enhancement pills, weight loss products, nutrition products, fitness products or supplements.)
* To conduct scams
– Pop-ups or web site notices that say your computer is infected
– Notices that say you have violated some law
– E-mails that announce you have won something
– E-mails that tell you they have money waiting for you to claim
* To locate and contact victims
– Craigslist or similar sites with intent to rob or harm you when you meet
– Dating sites, with intent to take advantage of you, rob you, or harm you
– Offers that seem too good to be true, or perhaps that just sound really enticing, that are simply ways to get your money without giving you the result you expect
* To sell products or services that can make legitimate businesses a lot of money
If a legitimate business can make a lot of money selling something (e.g., weight loss products), it is an area a criminal could also make lots of money. However, the criminal might use “shortcuts” that the ethical business owner wouldn’t, e.g., marketing products that don’t work, marketing products that don’t meet safety standards or may contain less of the active ingredient than promised.
* To put up web sites or use communication or advertising to lure people into becoming victims. Some of the things they might do is:
– Collect money for causes, like helping the victims of the latest disaster (but the money really goes to the criminal, or the majority goes to the criminal with only a very small amount actually helping the disaster victim)
– Infect your computer when you go to a web site or open an e-mail
– Get you to buy a product that may not offer what was promised (discount meds that don’t meet quality control standards or that may not even have the listed ingredients)
– Get you to buy a stolen or counterfeit product, possibly at a fabulous discount (or it may be full price, especially if the product is restricted or more difficult to obtain)
* To steal your information
– Through e-mail phishing scams
– Through special offers, contests, awards, or any other kind of offer that promises you something for nothing, or in return for your giving them the information they say they need to collect from you
– Through fake web sites that look like the web sites you trust (e.g., a web site that looks like your bank’s web site but is really put up by the criminal, possibly using a mistyping of the bank’s name)
* To collect information you freely provide
– Your Facebook posts
– Your response to special offers or promotions
– When you sign up for something free (or discounted) or register on a site
This is just a small sampling of the ways criminals use the Internet.
Where do they find their potential victims? Their victims may be:
* People looking for relationships (personal or professional). Con men are good at establishing rapport and may take advantage of someone’s desire for a relationship in order to take advantage of them.
* People looking for something more than they can receive through traditional channels (deals, specials, opportunities, etc.)
* Anyone looking for a good deal on something
* Anyone looking for anything. The criminal may put up a web site, send an e-mail, or put an ad on a well-known site. All of these may be designed to attract people to their site, which may be a sales page for what they are selling or it may be a site that will infect the computer of the person that visits it. So, a search for details about a popular celebrity’s recent activities, or for information about a hot topic or a popular product could take you to a page put up by some criminal. That criminal plans to take advantage of the latest trend and draw people to their site.
Criminals use a variety of illegal practices to get what they want. But they also use the same methods and resources the rest of us use, like the Internet. They will use search engines, sites that bring people together, and will utilize e-mail and web sites that they create just like everybody else. Except their goal is to find victims, or to execute their criminal activities.
If we will recognize that criminals are using the Internet to reach their victims, we can reduce our chances of becoming victims. The number of people who fall prey to their tactics is enormous; we hear about many of them on news stories. In many cases, the same techniques that have been used for decades in the physical world are now being used on the Internet; they’ve just been modified to be used online. In other cases, today’s technology provides new opportunities for the bad guys. If we recognize this and exercise some caution, we may be able to avoid being one of those victims.
If you are buying a product, consider whether the product is likely to be authentic and in good shape. Also consider whether you can trust the seller. If anything about the product or transaction strikes you as out of the ordinary, be especially cautious. Some of these warning signs could be prices that seem too good to be true or requests to send money by methods not usually used (such as wiring money, using gift cards or loading cards with money and providing the numbers to the seller, etc.)
If you are buying a service, consider whether the person selling it is qualified and is likely to deliver the quality you expect.
If you discover something that entices you, consider whether it is likely to be legitimate or might be a scam, a con, or designed to take advantage of you in some way.
If you are being asked to provide information, consider whether the party is likely to be trustworthy and also consider whether providing that information may put you at risk in any way. If the information requested is not the kind of information that is usually requested in that kind of scenario, consider refusing to provide it. Also, consider whether the information being requested is something they really need. If not, consider refusing to provide it. If the information requested is sensitive, that’s even more reason to consider whether or not it is really needed.
Where to find them: they could be anywhere on the Internet. They might also use the Internet to make arrangements to meet you in the physical world.
How to avoid them:
1) Be aware they are out there, looking for victims.
2) Be alert whenever you make a purchase, contact someone, or share information.
Most of the time, the site or person you encounter is OK. But a small percentage of the people, sites, and offers are not.
Be informed and remain alert.