Honest people all over the world go online to send messages, get information and buy and sell goods. Spend enough time though and you will cross paths with a scammer, hacker or worse.
You should be particularly careful shopping online. When you enter your credit card or other personally identifying information, check to make sure you are using a secure server. Look in the location bar for "https://" instead of "http://." The "S" means secure.
Understand how online auctions work: the auction generally does not verify or stand behind the merchandise being sold or the veracity of representations made about the merchandise. However, a respectable online auction will make an effort to look into alleged abuses. You should report your complaint.
Be extremely cautious about clicking on ads you see on the Internet, even on well known sites. Websites that sell advertising space do not generally endorse advertisers or their claims. Advertisements that sound too good to be true usually are.
The Internet is largely unregulated. Crooks set up sites that claim to sell products or collect for charities. In fact they take your money and disappear. When buying from an unknown company, look for a physical address on their website and try to find independent information about them before making an order.
The best way to protect yourself from a host of scams and swindles is by not responding to unsolicited offers. Never purchase something offered by SPAM. You should also be skeptical of telemarketers, even if the caller claims to be with a company you trust. Hang up and call the company yourself, using a number you find for yourself, to make sure you are talking to the real company.
Fraudulent offers may also arrive in the mail, mixed in with legitimate coupons and catalogs.
Unfortunately unsolicited advertisements - better known as Spam are not necessarily illegal under either federal or Texas law. In addition a significant portion of the spam you receive either originates from or is routed through one or more foreign countries. Therefore even illegal spammers are often outside the reach of state and federal authorities. Therefore despite the determined and successful the efforts of state and federal enforcement authorities, you should take steps to protect yourself from incoming email advertisements.
One of the most important ways to protect your email address is not to post it on a website if you can avoid it. Spammers regularly "harvest" email addresses from websites. Once you are on one list, your address may be sold to other spammers.
Also work with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to take advantage of all the filters, blocks and other junk mail management services they offer. Familiarize yourself with the different levels of security available to you.
Use the "remove" feature with great caution. A reputable business concerned about customer relations will likely honor your request to be removed from their list. Unscrupulous spammers, however, may use the remove feature to identify active mailboxes, and you may be inviting more, not less, spam.
Finally, you can remove your email address from some national direct email lists, by visiting www.dmachoice.org.
The first rule to follow is to never respond to any unsolicited email with your personal information. Scammers can use personal information to, among other things, steal your identity, open credit cards in your name and plunder your bank accounts. Delete any email or other message that asks for you to "verify" your personal information. It is a scam.
Also never respond to messages saying you won a foreign lottery. Typically they ask you to send "fees" or "taxes" in order for you to claim your winnings. These messages are always scams.
Advance fee fraud or "Nigerian scam" as its sometimes known is a third common scam. The messages promise to deposit huge amounts of money in your bank account if you send them your bank account number. The emailer wants your account number so he can raid it.
Unfortunately the internet has even more sophisticated criminals.
Malware and viruses are software that infiltrate your computer without your knowledge or consent. They can "infect" your computer by installing programs that can monitor your internet activity and sometimes steal your usernames and passwords. These programs are very dangerous because they can steal your personal information without you knowing it.
To help protect yourself, make sure you use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer - and keep that software up to date along with your web browser. Check with your Internet Service Provider about any free virus, spyware, and firewall software they may provide.
If you think your system has been hacked, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) with your concerns. Because internet complaints often cross jurisdictional lines, IC3 acts as a clearinghouse for law enforcement nationwide. Your complaint to IC3 will be sent to our investigators as well as to other jurisdictions who may be able to assist you.
Also read the Computer Information Technology and Electronic Crime (CITEC) Unit of the Texas Department of Public Safety's website. It outlines steps for reporting computer hacking.
Perhaps the most vile thing found on the internet is child pornography. Child pornography is illegal and you can report it by forwarding the offending site's address to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). You can also find additional information about reporting child pornography at the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.