Monday, September 14, 2009

Protecting your digital identity

It's been so long since we started looking at the internet for jobs, and there are job scams just as long. Although there may be literally hundreds and thousands of legitimate job offers floating on the net on employment sites such as, and local job boards, there are hundreds of thousands of scam offers per every legitimate site. So, the question has always been, how to tell the good guys from the scammers?
The first rule of thumb "If it's too good to be true, it probably isnt true" should be used... but only as a rule of thumb. In many cases, sticking to this rule as the sole measurement many times throws out the baby with the bath water. So, the question still remains, Who're the good guys, and who're the bad ones?
Bad guys are out to get something from you. In some cases, they'll ask for one time entrance fee. This fee is usually low enough to get your wheels spinning, and also low enough so that some states wouldn't consider it a fraudulent activity. I've heard of states in USA that won't pursue scammers if the stolen fee is below $50 (not sure where I heard it, so take it at face value). In other cases, scammers are out to get your credit card info, which is a scary thing and can happen very easily. People are quite easy to get arround with, and in one of my jobs I took payments in such a way that people gave me the full payment details over email, which is very risky... the least they should have done is to put it in a text attachment, or use WinRAR to zip it with an unzip code, and email the code in another mail... but that's besides the point.
Yet the scariest scams for some people is identity theft. Imagine, with so many online software solutions such as free email, word processors, spreadsheet processors, shared office spaces, Twitter, Facebook etc. accounts... Just how dependent you are on your login info for all these services, and how good your password is? What would happen if someone finds out your Gmail password? Do you use all online services with the same login info? What's at stake if someone finds out your email, date of birth, address, phone number? Will they have enough info to figure out your password combination and take over your online identity?
The second rule of thumb for online security comes from the field of literature "Never put all your eggs in one basket." Cervantes put it well, although Andrew Carnegie said you should put them all in the same basket, and take good care of it. Two different perspectives? Well, not really. The first says keep your options open, the second says find your core competency. When it comes to protecting your digital identity, you should have many options, aka backup mechanisms. But all this is beside the point of due diligence in dealing with the myriads of online opportunities to make money... and myriad upon myriads to get scammed.
Here's the latest example, an email I just received, and it's a good example of a scam like activity. Follow the text, and keep a close eye on the requirements.

Good Day,
We offer a part time job on your computer.

Job Description:
We will provide you with the texts for our employees with the important information and you will correct the texts as an english speaking person and send them back to us.

We don't have a fixed salary for this vacancy. We will pay you USD7.00 for every 1Kb of the corrected text. You will receive the salary in a month from the work beginning. Every month your salary will be different as it depends on your activity.

If you correct about 5Kb (5kb it about 2 pages A4) of texts per day you will get over USD1000.00 at the end of the month.

-Location: Has no value (the main good knowledge of English language)
-Age: 20+
-Home computer, e-mail address and Microsoft Word

To apply for job please send us the following information to:
Phone number (home and cell, but SHOULD BE available any day time):
As soon as we revise your aplication we will contact you within 24 hours.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to ask.
Awaiting for your application.

Thank you,

Dating Agency.
So, first, you see that this is open to anyone, regardless of the location... but at the end of the email, you see that this email author wants your full name, full address and phone number. Hmm... that raises red flags, or at least it should by now, because this is sensitive info and usually it's not required up front, just as stores don't ask for your credit card info at entrance.
The third rule of thumb for safe computing (there are more of course) is very simple: Google the text. I copied the first paragraphs, added "scam" and did a search. Voila, several verbatim texts, sent from different email addresses, and none of them contain the company name, web address, mailing address... The distribution of power in these mails is inadequate, and that should be the among the first red flags that goes up. They're asking for all your personal info, without disclosing ANYTHING about themselves. So, you're all in the open, unprotected, and they're totally anonymous. That's a big NO NO.
To sum up, Make sure you do the three (out of many) initial steps:
1. Have a healthy doze of skepticism when dealing with email,
2. Use different passwords and keep them safe, especially the job-related ones,
3. Google the content and add SCAM to see if the text is listed as scam

Take good care, and you'll have a care-free computing experience.

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