The internet has given us the ability to do many things. We can learn about virtually any topic within seconds, do a month’s worth of Christmas shopping in an hour and it has removed the roadblock of distance in our personal relationships. But from a police perspective, it has also increased the rate at which people are victimized by criminals. On the internet, a criminal can present themselves as anyone they want. This anonymity allows them to victimize without fear of discovery.
Police departments around the United States have seen a rise in financial crime due to the increase in internet usage. Distressingly, we have also seen a rise in personal and violent crimes as well. While the damage to the victims of these crimes is obvious, it also impacts the local economy. Crimes committed over the internet, while not truly occurring in that jurisdiction, are counted in the crime stats for that community. Businesses looking to invest in a community often look at crime statistics before committing their resources to a project. Prospective homebuyers do the same thing.
Internet crime prevention involves most of the same methods as traditional approaches we use to reduce victimization. Being cautious, suspicious and smart can greatly reduce the chance of you becoming a victim. Doing research and taking time to verify information can go a long way towards eliminating fraud and other internet crimes.
Never provide personal information (social security number, date of birth, credit card numbers) to anyone you did not purposefully contact to make a transaction. Do not respond to any email asking you to log on to any accounts you have. The link they provide often takes you to a site designed to steal your information.
A frightening trend we are seeing is the rise in violent crime originating from contacts made over the internet. While not exclusive to any site, popular sites that provide a platform for trading, selling or providing service to another person have become a hunting ground for violent predators. The Colerain Police Department has seen a rise in sexual assaults that occur from relationships started online.
In recent years, violent armed robberies have occurred when the victim arranges to meet someone to buy or sell property. A Colerain Police Officer was involved in an on-duty shooting two years ago attempting to stop a string of violent robberies that started from a posting on Craigslist.
When you meet someone online, or have arranged to make a financial transaction in person, avoid meeting that person in an unfamiliar area. Choose areas that are well-lit and visible. Consider meeting at a police station or inside a shopping mall to avoid being alone in a dangerous environment. Finally, trust your instincts. Those feelings of uneasiness are there for a reason, past experiences and your subconscious are telling you something is wrong.
The internet provides a wonderful venue for exploring, communicating and conducting business. As in any environment, it is up to you to take precautions to protect yourself.