Of course there's crime on the Net-there's crime wherever there's money. Today, the Internet is awash with both cash and comparatively inexperienced users, making this ideal turf for scamsters. Granted, it's easy to get hysterical about Net crime; but, generally speaking, the Net has changed nothing except the instrument of criminality. Con men once used the mail, then they graduated to telephone boiler rooms, and now some tech-savvy crooks have slipped into cyberspace.
Although the Net may serve as a fertile operating pasture for crooks, it's also an ideal medium for raising the alarm and alerting other users to problems. Key advice: Before doing any kind of sizable deal with a stranger "met" over the Net, always check out some of the many sites established to monitor the Internet for crooks.
Web Police: This association of concerned citizens (in 60-plus countries) is a good starting point. The Web site is filled with links to agencies offering help and also features a bulletin board where users can post crime reports. The Web Police will go after anything, from plain-vanilla financial scams to heavier stuff, such as child abuse and cyberstalking. The service also offers a chat room for worried users who feel the need for a digital pep talk.
Internet Scam-Busters: ScamBusters offers extensive educational resources to help prevent you from getting scammed, as well as a growing database of common scams. (Don't miss the Nigerian Advance Fee Scam, which keeps robbing small businesses.)
Internet Fraud Watch: Click on the site's "Internet statistics" to surface a treasure trove of factoids. Case in point: Internet fraud robbed consumers of more than $3.2 million in 1999, according to the National Consumer League's Internet Fraud Watch.
Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.