What Is Cyber Crime?

Learn how to protect yourself

Photo of a hacker overlayed by code.

 TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay

Cyber crimes involve the use of a computer or the internet to commit crimes. These crimes are so common today the FBI and most police departments maintain entire Cyber Divisions just to deal with it.

Something to keep in mind is many of these crimes are familiar to the police because they existed before the internet did. There have always been scam artists and con men trying to get money out of everyday people. However, with the internet available, bad guys can cast a far wider net.

In this article you're going to learn about the most common internet crimes you're likely to come across including phishing, hacking, and more.

Phishing and Spamming

If you've had an email account long enough, you're probably familiar with spam email.

According to Statistica, every month, 60 to 70 percent of email traffic transmitted over the internet consists of spam email. Many of these are from criminals looking to steal your information.

Screenshot of a phishing email.

Criminals who send these emails attempt to disguise them as coming from a legitimate entity like Facebook, the IRS, or your own bank.

This is how a phishing scam works:

  1. The criminal's email convinces the recipient that their account needs to be verified.
  2. Victims click a link, which takes them to a fake web page that looks like a legitimate website.
  3. Victims enter their account details, and those details are added to the criminal's database.

Before victims realize anything is wrong, the criminals have already locked the victim out of the account.

Criminals use spam emails and phishing to:

  • Steal money from financial accounts
  • Access Apple accounts and devices
  • Hijack social media accounts
  • Access email accounts to collect more email addresses to spam
  • Break into a company network and access sensitive corporate information

You can protect yourself from this criminal activity by staying vigilant in the following ways.

  • Use email services (like Gmail) that automatically filter spam emails from your inbox
  • Never click on any links in email messages
  • Access company login pages directly

If you feel you need to click on an email link and you're on Windows computer, hover your mouse over the link and check the lower left corner of the browser window to ensure the link URL goes to the site you expect it to go to.

For example, if you get an email saying something is wrong with your Apple ID, just mouse over the link. You'll notice the actual URL looks something like: mendtows.co.uk. Obviously that isn't an apple.com URL like you'd expect.

A screenshot of a browser link preview status.

Spammers sometimes aren't quite that obvious, and will try to make the URL look similar to the actual Apple domain, like customers.applesupport.com.

But if things don't look quite right, they usually aren't. Play it safe and don't click.

If you're using a mobile device to check email, most mobile email clients have a feature available to let you preview links before tapping them. Just hold your finger down on the link until a pop-up window appears. You'll see a preview of the URL without actually selecting it.

Computer Hacking and Identity Theft

Another avenue criminals use to access your account details is by hacking directly into your computer.

There are many ways criminals do this:

  • Breaking into your home router using the default administrator password
  • Accessing your computer over a public Wi-Fi network
  • Hacking your Apple ID to access data on your iPhone or Mac
  • Accessing laptops that are left unattended at a library or internet cafe

The main goal of these criminals is to obtain bank or credit card details, or to gather personal information (like a social security number) to steal your identity.

You can protect yourself from these criminal hackers by keeping your computer system secure.

  • Change your home wireless router password so it isn't still default.
  • Enable your Windows Firewall and never log into financial accounts while on public networks.
  • Never leave your laptop unattended in public.

If your system does get hacked, check out our article on what you can do to recover.

Child Predators

Image of an online predator.

One of the worst types of criminals online are those who target children.

Unfortunately, there are many opportunities for child predators to find children online.

Predators use the following online tools to commit cyber crimes against children.

  • Online childrens' games with a community chat system.
  • Instant Message (IM) networks that are popular with teens and pre-teens.
  • Websites that allow strangers to chat anonymously.
  • Forums and other online communities with built-in messaging systems.

These predators pretend they're the same age as other kids on the network.

Here are ways you can protect your child online:

  • Install parental monitoring software on your child's devices.
  • Talk to your children about online predators and internet safety.
  • Add filters on your home router to block access to dangerous websites.

Online predators will always be a problem online, so it's important for parents to take the risk seriously.

Other Types of Cyber Crimes

The following are a few other kinds of cyber crimes to be aware of.

  • Cyberbullying: Bullying is common among teens, but a few forms of bullying online are crimes. One example is "swatting", which is calling emergency services to visit the home of a victim. Another is using hacking software to conduct a Denial of Service Attack (DDoS) to take down someone's website.
  • Corporate Espionage: These criminals pretend to apply for a job within a company only to steal sensitive company information stored on internal corporate networks.
  • Catfishing: Criminals use online dating sites to pretend to be looking for romance, but instead convince victims to send them a large amount of money over time.

The best way to keep yourself safe from all forms of cyber crime is by keeping vigilant while on the internet.

Never share personal information or account details with strangers, always keep your mobile phone and computer systems updated with the latest antivirus software, and never use the same password on different systems.