Credit Cards & Identity Theft – Online Fraud

In my case, while an unwanted party gained my account details, no transactions were made. The bank’s fraud department were understandably hesitant in releasing details of the compromise, but they were very quick in taking action. At this point in time I’m not even sure that the offending party was an online merchant, freelance hacker or traditional retailer.

The media in general have fed the netizen community paranoia levels regarding online transactions. Yes, credit card numbers are stolen and yes, there are victims who suffer financial loss. But submitting your credit card details online is no different to handing your card to a shop assistant that you don’t know or a waiter you have never met before. There is very little stopping merchants we carry out transactions with on a face to face basis from gathering detailed lists of account numbers to be sold off on the black market.

The media have also fed the xenophobic cold war attitudes of years gone by by focusing on certain countries. Credit card number hackers are “Russian”, true. They are also American, Australian and English. Every country in the world has a community of identity theives, scammers and spammers.

If you own a credit card and don’t carry out online transactions, it doesn’t mean you are safe. We need to remember that most of the world’s information systems are now connected somehow to the Internet. All your vital details are now available online; regardless of whether or not you are a Internet user. It’s all down to usernames, passwords and IP addresses. If you have ever collected a welfare payment, taken out an insurance policy or registered a vehicle – congratulations! You are now part of the World Wide Web, like it or not. You can now emerge from your identity fortress as resistance is futile. That’s the reality of our modern lives.

So, now after having blown away your misconceptions of your privacy, and your false security of being safe from identity theft, let’s deal with reality!

Identity theft and credit card fraud is on the increase, such is the nature of an online world. How do we as netizens and webmasters protect ourselves and our clients as best as possible? It boils down to a number of simple guidelines.

Passwords – Know that little window that pops up and politely asks you if you want your computer to remember certain user names and passwords? Don’t tick it! Most passwords are stored in a special file on a Windows 95/98/ME system and every half baked pimply would-be hacker knows what it is. If you are not using a firewall, it is pretty easy for these people to snatch your password file and then crack it at their leisure using freely available programs.

Password length can also add as extra protection. Those extra few numbers and letters make all the difference. Read the article:

Safety in numbers and letters

Web masters, if you are keeping user information on your web server, ensure it is stored in the proper directory with the proper permissions. Better still, wherever possible, store minimum client information on your server. Even better, ensure that all sensitive details that your visitors may submit occur over an SSL connect. A web server is the equivalent of a 7/11 store – open all hours for valid and non-valid customers. There is NO 100% guaranteed safe system

Firewalls – A personal firewall is now a necessity, not a luxury. The script kiddie problem is increasing. A script kiddie is someone who fancies themselves as a hacker and utilises freely available programs to compromise your system via the Internet. Script Kiddies have caused major problems over recent years and have been known to post up credit card numbers for all to see. Why? Bragging rights, a great deal of the time. There are over 60 000 points of entry on your PC. You can read more about the issue and gain an overview of personal firewalls by reading the articles:

Script Kiddies – Vermin of the Internet

Script Kiddies – An advice to parents

Script Kiddies 3 – Grill a Kiddie

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