The Internet has many benifical uses that everyone can use to create an easier and more relaxed life. People can now work in there home over the computer, purchase goods and services and even meet new people. The Internet has taken the vast amount of space that separate people from across the world and connects them through a network of phone lines, cable and DSL modems, and even satellites. Unfortunately, with this great new technology we face a new problem. Internet fraud and hoaxes have become a great and expensive problem in today’s high pace world of computers. It also raises the moral and ethical issues involved in the transactions of goods over the net and also who is trustworthy.
There are many types of fraud that can be found on the Internet, the first of which are hoaxes. One might ask what are hoaxes and how can they adversely affect the flow of money on the net. According to the CIAC (Computer Incident Advisory Capability) Internet hoaxes are written with one purpose and that is to send out a message, usually through email, that contains untrue information whether it be information over a virus or a letter trying to invoke sympathy so that the recipients will pass it along to his/her friends, this is sometimes called chain mail or letters. If a person looks at the costs of these hoaxes it may seem insignificant at first glance but when one digs deep it will add up. The reason being is that if everyone receives one of these letters and sends it on, the cost of that one letter adds up as it is passed on down the line. An example of this can be found again on the CIAC website, they state that if everyone spends one minute on each hoax and then discards it the formula would look like this. 50,000,000*1/60 hour*$50/hour=$41.7 million. This figure is just a rough estimate but most people have seen far more than just one hoax letter and in most business the employees may cost the company more than $50/hr if you include the benefits and over head. According to the policenotebook on virus hoaxes, most alerts a person receives on virus are in fact false. Also it states that millions of dollars are lost annually because of the diversion from their work and companies spend more money on virus detection programs. They suggest that before you start taking action to check with someone you trust or check it out yourself to make for sure that it is a real threat. The other types of hoaxes include malicious code (virus and trojan) warning, urban myths, giveaways, inconsequential warnings, sympathy letters and requests to help someone, threat chains, scam chains.
The malicious code warning are very numerous there are many sites that a person can go to research and find out whether or not they have received an actual or fake warning. Some of this sites include the CIAC, Scambusters, and Symantec, this are just a few of the many sites out there. An example of one of these hoaxes comes from the CIAC hoaxbusters page it gives a list of the many different hoaxes. One in particular was Irina Virus hoax, “this all started when the former head of an electronic publishing company circulated the warning to create publicity for a new interactive book by the same name. The publishing company has apologized for the publicity stunt that backfired and panicked Internet users worldwide. The original warning claimed to be from a Professor Edward Pridedaux of the College of Slavic Studies in London; there is no such person or college. However, London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies has been inundated with calls. This poorly thought-out publicity stunt was highly irresponsible (CIAC pg. 2).” What this letter said was that if u get a certain email with the subject line of “Irina” to delete the message as soon as possible because if a person were to download it the result would be a total rewrite of the hard drive. This is a perfect example of the ethical issues that people should follow when using the Internet. This publishing house created the hoax in hopes to make more money from their product but in reality disrupted the lives of many computer users. The second type of hoax is urban myths these are warnings and stories about bad things happening to people or animals that never really happened. Such as dirty needles in a movie theater seat, or a man infected with AIDS that goes around in crowded places like concerts and pricking people of a needle he used. The third type is give aways, which are stories of large companies giving away money or other free merchandise if you send the letter to your friends. The fourth type is inconsequential warnings, these are warning of problems that were once a problem but not anymore. The fifth threat chains in this the letters a person receives contain threats of harm to the body or personal belongings. The sixth is scam chains, which are letters received that look to be from a genuine company but are really fakes.
There are some steps a person can take to recognize a hoax and not become the victim of a person unethical use of the Internet. The first thing a person should look for is the phrase “send to everyone you know” this is a great sign that it may be a hoax. Also these letters are often written in a technical sounding language a person can determine if it is a hoax or not by using the same method one would use to figure out a chain letter. One needs to look for the hook, threat, and request.
In an article by Bob Sullivan from MSNBC we can see that the House Commerce Committee has recognized the threat and has tried to prevent the excessive spamming by passing an anti-spamming bill in 1999. This bill allows ISP and consumers to sue spammers that have violated the regulations that the bill set forth. The actions that would be taken would cost $500 per message, up to $25,000, plus legal costs. John Cusey, a spokesman for Rep. Gary Miller, stated, “We have quite a bit of momentum going here.” On the downside spammers also have momentum going for them. With a few keystrokes, a spammer can send hundreds of thousands e-mails. Although the vast majority of the population can see through the hoaxes, and reject the messages the true goal of the scam artist is to get into bank account information. The end result is that they can walk away with 100 checking accounts for a few seconds work.
Even though experts expect for this trend to keep growing government and law enforcement agencies are not ignoring the problem. Many groups such as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center and private organizations such as Junkbusters and ChooseYourMail.com are fighting back against the spam mail and the scams that are hidden in them.
In 1996 the NCL (National Consumers League) started a program called Internet Fraud Watch, this program allowed consumers to either call an 800 number or visit their web site which is www.fraud.org, to report or gain advice on internet fraud. A few years later in 1998 they released the top ten Internet frauds to the IFW. The top ten is as follows: 1. Online auction transactions, 2. General Merchandise Sales, 3. Computer hardware/software sales, 4. Internet related services, 5. Work-at-home plans, 6. Business opportunities/franchises, 7. Multilevel marketing/pyramids, 8. Credit card offers, 9. Advance fee loans, 10. Job listings/employment offers. According to the Report from the National Consumers League to the U.S. Department of Justice, this top ten is very similar to that found in telemarketing and that most of the complaints involve non-receipt of the promised products or services. Also in the report they provide a plan to resolve the problem of Internet fraud, it involves three steps education, enforcement and industry policy.
The first step, which is education, has seen the NCL launch many programs to help educate the consumer the first program was the Elder Fraud Project, which started in 1996 with the help of a major grant from American Express. The latest project is the Be E-Wise campaign. This program will help consumers learn to shop safe over the Internet. The NCL has given three recommendations that will help with the second step, which is enforcement. The first of which states that the government needs to consider whether new laws or regulations should be put in place to provide a set of guidelines from marketers. Also they say that these regulations should enforce more effective penalties against violators of the law. Secondly, they suggest that the government provide a permanent funding for training investigator and prosecutors. Thirdly, the government should make a long-term commitment of financial support to the nonprofit organizations that investigate incidents of fraud for law enforcement. The third and last step in the report is industry policies. Again the NCL has provided us with recommendations. The first is that the federal government needs to encourage online business to provide a more secure means of billing for their products. Secondly, as new payment systems are installed the government needs to research whether or not the consumer are protected from fraudulent transactions. Thirdly, the government should encourage companies to review there current codes of conduct and determine whether or not new ones need to be added. The last recommendation is that the government needs to promote the development of an alternative dispute resolution system that would provide the consumer with a prompt, fair, and accessible assistance with complaints without them waiving their legal rights.
As one can see the Internet has proven to be the new Wild West, were scam artist and pranksters roam looking for innocent victims to either torment with spam mail or to rob blind. Either way you look at it both ethical and moral standards are violated. Many organizations both federal and private are trying to stop this growing problem but just like the Wild West when it was still new to everyone a few laws or regulations won’t stop the problem. The best defense and possible the best solution to this problem was stated in the report from the NCL the consumers must learn the signs of fraud and learn how to protect themselves from the hoaxes and scams that flood the internet today.
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