OPINION: Danger in digital jungle

MY love/hate relationship with the internet has entered an ugly new phase.

I'm now in an ongoing nightmare after I changed ISP companies and inadvertently lost my broadband connection; I'm now facing a six-to-nine month wait for reconnection.

Demoted to a dodgy 3G connection via my smartphone, I'm just realising how much I relied on the web. I've had to email friends to ask them to not send any attachments as the meagre data allowance I have is quickly eaten up.

It hasn't stopped the scammers, though.

There's no doubt the internet has opened the floodgates for the dishonest. They seem to largely reside in developing countries and will stop at nothing to rip off the naïve and innocent.

I wonder how they all survived before the internet came along, or perhaps its arrival spawned an entire generation of thieves who exist simply because they can.

Web scams have taken over largely from the phone scammers, most of who apparently lived in India.

Their main plot involved computers running on Windows; they implored potential victims to hand over their credit card details to save their own computers from certain cyber-death thanks to a non-existent virus.

I had many a call even though I didn't actually own a Windows-based computer. The perpetrators refused to take that as fact at the time, leading to some near-comical exchanges as they insisted that I did.

More recently, an acquaintance of mine was the victim of an online-dating scam that eventually cost her house. Her bank foreclosed after she remortgaged her home - against all advice from friends and family.

She sent a "Spanish chef" $12,000 to pay for his legal costs to facilitate the sending of millions of euros to her bank account that he'd acquired after his best friend died in a car accident.

All lies of course, and everyone in her circle pleaded with her to reconsider; I directed her to websites devoted to describing the very trap she was falling into. Thanks to greed and loneliness, she went ahead anyway.

Then last week my neighbour, who is advertising his motorhome online, received two emails, both from supposed interested parties with anonymous email accounts.

They offered to buy it (unseen) and deposit the funds into a popular third-party online checkout service. Both, helpfully, provided a spurious link to the website in case the neighbour didn't have an account.

He's not very computer-literate but, smelling a rat, he showed me the messages. I pointed out the murky email addresses, the dodgy grammar, and the likelihood that the link would lead to either a counterfeit site or a malware download that would skim his details.

He replied to both asking them to ring him and, of course, neither did.

It's a jungle out there.



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