Business is good for online scammers, and that’s bad news for consumers. Consumer Reports 2008 State of the New survey suggest that American consumers lost almost $8.5 billion in the last two years to viruses, spyware and phishing scams. The news isn’t all bad—at least for computer manufacturers—as the survey found that some 2.1 million computers needed to be replaced due to online threats.
In all seriousness however, this is also bad news for small and home-based businesses. Among the new scams and online threats that are on the rise, cell-phone spam is among the worst concerns. This is one that will probably grow and cost consumers more—in part because the spam (including text messages) can add up to big dollars for users.
Even traditional spam remains a problem. According to Consumers Reports, 1 in 3 survey respondents reported heavy levels of spam, and it is estimated that 1.2 million people nationwide received more than 25 such messages each day during a recent six-month period. If it is only 25 messages they should count themselves lucky!
Spyware is also on the rise, and it is estimated that more than half a million computers were replaced due to spyware. Of course consumers as well as small business could have reformatted, but for many it is easier to say out with the old and in with the new.
Even more worrisome is that 19 percent of respondents to the survey reported that they didn’t have any antivirus software on their computers, while 75 percent said they didn’t use any sort of anti-phishing toolbar. This is notable because it means these people are at risk and as long as there are potential victims there will be scammers looking for those marks.
Consumer Reports also took the time to identify the seven blunders people commonly make with their computers when going online:
- They assume the security software is working
- They access accounts, including those for banking and eBay, through an e-mail link
- They use a single password for all online accounts
- They download free software
- They think Mac shields them from all risks
- They click on a pop-up ad that says the PC is insecure
- They shop online the same way they would in a store
All good things to keep in mind, but I have a couple more blunders that people commonly make:
- Use a bank account link when shopping online—PayPal charges no fees to buyers, only sellers, so there is no reason not to use PayPal to send money. And you can send the money from a credit card, where you have more control should something bad happen.
- Not alerting the credit card company when you’re making large online purchases—and not watching your statements closely
- Using passwords that are easy enough to figure out, such as birthdates, mother’s maiden names and addresses
- Forgetting to clear sensitive data when using a computer at an Internet caf? or other shared PC
- Considering that a work computer is secure—even if you work in a small office you shouldn’t have your PC automatically remember passwords, or even save your user name
Being safe online means using common sense. But that sense shouldn’t go out the window if you work from home or work in an office.