With the emergence of social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the Internet has become a popular vehicle to socialize with friends, meet new people, and engage in virtual conversations. Many people, especially teenage and college-aged students, use social networking sites as an outlet to share and post pictures and connect with friends. Online blogs, websites and social media sites have also become the center for business promotion and staying up-to-date on national news as well. However, with the rapid popularity of the Internet, many criminals have easy access to millions of people’s private information. Ultimately, the Internet has played a significant role in the rise of criminal activity such as identity theft, scams and cyber harassment.
As the number of Internet users continue to increase, many hackers are able to easily break in to personal and company computers and access confidential information. Hacking involves defacing, hijacking, bombing, and denial of service to various websites and computers. Also viruses, which are codes that attaches itself to a program in a computer and then reproduces itself can erase files and lock systems. Viruses weaken the security of a system or personal computer making it susceptible to all kinds of Internet threats and crimes.
Years ago, white-collar crimes which involve lying, cheating and stealing were commonly committed by criminals who broke into people’s homes, rummaged through old garbage and/or robbed people to get their hands on personal information. Now, with the growing popularity of the internet, many criminals are able to easily access personal passwords, social security numbers and banking information. For instance, one way that identity theft is committed involves a criminal sending spam e-mails advising a person that it is necessary to confirm their password on a fake website to get access to their password and other personal information.
Personal users are not the only victims of identity theft. Due to the growing numbers of hackers, many corporate businesses and even government officials have fallen victim to this crime. For instance, the governor of South Carolina recently stated that outdated computers and security flaws at the state’s Department of Revenue allowed international hackers to steal 3.8 million tax records. This led to the theft of 3.8 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers, and it was the largest ever against a state government agency (Brown, 2012). Thus, this incident shows the harmful effect that online criminal activity such as identity theft has not only on individuals, but government agencies as well.
Criminals have also used fraud and scams to infiltrate website and e-mail accounts to access personal information. For instance, criminals will send anonymous emails promising people that they will receive large sums of money in exchange for their personal information. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), one of the biggest scams, the “Nigerian 419” is evading the Internet and obtaining personal accounts of many online users. The ‘Nigerian 419” scam was named after the section of the Nigerian criminal code, and it was developed by criminals in Nigeria.
The “Nigerian 419” uses impersonation fraud and an advance fee scheme in which criminals send e-mail letters offering the online user a percentage of millions of dollars. The criminals claim that a government official is attempting to transfer money illegally out of Nigeria, and they try to convince the online user to disclose their bank account number and information to send money in installments for various reasons. Once the money is sent, the criminals promises that the online user will receive a large sum of money. However, once the transaction is made the online user never receives anything and becomes not only a victim, but an accomplice to criminal activity.
One of the most popular and more dangerous internet crimes is cyber harassment. Criminals and bullies use this form of crime to threaten online users by sending harassing emails, instant messages posting threats on websites or blogs in an effort to torment or bully someone. Some states have enacted statutes prohibiting certain harmful or threatening language used in electronic communications. Thus, the change from physical bullying and assaults to cyber harassment has played a major role in the increase of local and national crime.
Cyber harassment and bullying has had a huge impact on many online users, particularly, teenagers. For instance, a Megan Meier, 13-year old student from Missouri, committed suicide in 2006 after receiving threatening and cruel comments from a boy on MySpace. However, after an investigation, it turned out that the boy who befriended the teenage girl was not real. He was created by the mother of one of Meier’s classmates (Antonopoulos, 2007). Thus, this horrific incident exemplifies the harmful effect of cyber harassment on young adolescents and further shows how the internet has aided in the increasing rate of criminal activity.
Essentially, the Internet has quickly become the center for communication, networking, news and business marketing. Millions of online users interact via social media sites, web sites and popular blogs. However, with the advent of the Internet’s popularity, it has also become an easy gateway for criminal activity. Crimes such as identity theft, scams and cyber harassment continue to target internet users. Thus, in recent years, the Internet has changed the scope of criminal activity, making it more prevalent and easier for criminals to victimize innocent people.
- Antonopoulos, C. (2007). Danger behind the screens. The Chicago
Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com.
- Brown, R. (2012). South Carolina Offers Details of Data Theft and Warns It Could Happen
Elsewhere.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.
- The United States Department of Justice. Common Fraud Schemes. The FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov.