If you aren’t worried about the threat cybercrime poses to your financial well-being, think again. Cybercrime is a worldwide epidemic affecting thousands of victims every year. It’s no surprise why criminals are so eager to use the Internet for their fraudulent scams and deceptive ways: According to the 2012 edition of the Norton Cybercrime Report, this crime earns $388 billion dollars for criminals every year — more than the worldwide drug trade’s $288 billion earned for marijuana, cocaine and heroin trafficking combined.
Cybercrime can be committed in a number of different ways, and new innovations online are continually new methods for criminals to commit their fraudulent acts. But what may be less obvious to the average consumer is the way some of our favorite companies and websites indirectly support cybercrime by taking a passive stance in addressing its threat to online consumers everywhere.
And it isn’t just credit card numbers, but also account usernames, passwords, and any other data stored on a computer. A number of products aim to protect consumers from this threat, such as online backup from VaultLogix, but while these security measures can be invaluable when disaster strikes, they should be complemented by a full understanding of why and how these crimes occur.
If there’s a simple answer, it’s this: Cybercriminals commit their crimes because they can. Because consumers are unaware of the risks they face even through routine computer and Internet use, and because their sensitive data and personal information is susceptible to compromise from these criminals.
By obtaining this valuable personal data, these criminals can gain access to bank accounts and other assets allowing them to steal money by the hundreds, thousands and even more. Catching these criminals can be difficult because the process of tracking them down can be tedious and, in some cases, fruitless. Meanwhile, there are always more people turning to cybercrime because the information on how to commit these acts is so easily available in forms and elsewhere on the Internet.
Who are the Victims?
To some degree, cybercriminals target everyone — there is little discrimination when it comes to stealing personal data. But according to Norton, 69 percent of adults have been victims of cybercrime at some point in their lives, and 65 percent of those surveyed had been victimized in the past 12 months.
But high-level Internet users face the highest risk. Of those persons who spend 49 or more hours a week online, 79 percent of those surveyed had been victimized through cybercrime at some point. Males face a slightly higher risk, at 72 percent, than women (65 percent). And younger adults–those between ages 18 and 31–are nearly 25 percent more likely than baby boomers to be victimized.
How they’re caught
Unfortunately, many cybercriminals get away with what they do thanks to a confluence of shortcomings among Internet institutions and the federal government. Congress is currently looking at cybersecurity legislation to make the Internet a more secure place, but the threat of prosecution and jail remains weak for serious cybercriminals. Additionally, many major social media outlets are reluctant to cooperate with authorities on cybercrime investigations and are slow to get involved, oftentimes compromising the investigation altogether.
However, there are forensic investigation firms helping in the fight against cybercrimes by training law enforcement in how to handle such crimes. And gradually, social networks like Twitter and Facebook are implementing more intensive authorization standards, as well as legal and technical support, to prevent cybercrimes and identify their offenders.
But the battle against cybercrime still has a long way to go. Security measures like antivirus software, online backup and other security features can go a long way toward preventing malware and unwanted eyes from infecting the computer. Those protections could guard against a nightmare scenario involving stolen personal information and lost financial assets.
Article written by Selena Lepley. Selena double majored in technology and journalism. She now works for the Sacramento Bee and blogs about technology advancements in her spare time.