Many of us in the domain investment and website development world often think we are above reproach when it comes to avoiding online fraud. However, the modern world communication is far faster and more far-reaching than ever before. We cut off one head of the Fraud Hydra, 7 more appear, and usually more savvy.
According to the NW3C (National White Collar Crime Center) the top 7 Internet Crimes are:
- Non-delivered packages and payment
- Identity Theft
- Auction Fraud
- Credit Card Fraud
- Tax-refund Fraud
- Intellectual Property Theft
- Theft of sensitive data
Unfortunately, that also means that fraud is a risk that can approach from many different directions. Keeping your online information safe is now vitally important, especially if you’re a professional. Here’s why.
Why Professional Credentials Are Especially Vulnerable
Internet fraud has become an essential tool in the traditional con artist’s repertoire. Going online is a way for criminals to both solicit new victims and steal personal information that helps them further their schemes. The case of Starlita Similien is a fine example.
This woman used stolen professional information to pose as a lawyer and defraud would-be clients. While this was the final straw that allowed the Sheriff of Bay County, Florida to arrest her, it was by no means the only trick up her sleeve. Similien also made money by defrauding customers and business partners with online schemes, including a “credit repair” service actually designed to steal personal information.
If you’re a professional yourself, you need to take extra steps to protect your identity online. The Starlita Similien case is a strong cautionary example: When this con artist was arrested, she was using the name and credentials of a real (but unknowing) lawyer. Be aware that all aspects of your online activity need to be protected; in many cases a con artist starts with access to a single email account and parlays that into complete identity theft.
Law Enforcement Agencies Are Often Powerless To Protect Digital Property
The reason that prevention is so much more effective than punishment is because law enforcement officials are often woefully behind the times in the world of online privacy. Domain theft is a prime example of a real crime that is barely even recognized by most area’s laws. The process is relatively simple: Using ordinary identify theft, a criminal obtains access to the email account used to register a domain. He or she transfers the registry to a different account and typically resells the domain quickly to realize a profit and cover up the crime. Once the theft is discovered, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to straighten out.
As pointed out in the article linked above, small business owners and independent professionals are particularly at risk because they often lack the resources or the know-how to protect themselves effectively. And as the example of Starlita Similien shows, a broad-minded criminal can cause real havoc once he or she has access to a professional’s credentials.
How To Protect Yourself
In order to keep your personal and professional identities safe and protect any domain names you own, good email security is absolutely critical. If your email provider offers a more secure protocol than the standard “POP” connection, make use of it. Change your passwords regularly and make sure they are always strong ones.
You can read a comprehensive guide to protecting domain names prepared by an intellectual property lawyer such as Zak Muscovitch here. You should also perform a diligent background check on the ownership of a domain before you commit to buying; purchasing a domain obtained fraudulently is a waste of money.But you also have to weigh the risk vs reward. At what point do you bring in an attorney to verify the details? $500.00? $10,0000? Many domainers and investors do not have the immediate funds for such detailed inquiries and this may be the tell criminals like Similien, understand.
You can also use DomainTools.com as a way to verify ownership, providing the name doesn’t have privacy enabled but also keep in mind, WhoIs information can be altered for nefarious purposes.
Finally, hearkening back to the Similien case one more time, you should always take the time to verify the credentials of a professional before you enter into any sort of financial relationship with them. Check to ensure that the contact information you’re using to communicate with the professional (e.g. email addresses, phone number area codes, and mailing addresses) all match with reputable sources. Most professions have trade organizations (like the American Bar Association for lawyers) which can help you verify a professional’s identity.
The sheer amount of fraud perpetrated online can be disheartening. Don’t let the risks dissuade you from making use of the Internet, though. All you need to do is protect yourself (and your identity) with a little bit of common sense and some basic preventative measures.