Technology plays a huge role in everyday life in the 21st century. We can shop online, pay our bills online and socialize online. We have greater choice, but with this sometimes comes with greater risk.

Online crime is a growing area and the methods used by criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated as they manipulate our sense of trust and take advantage of our trusting nature.

That is why when you go online, be it to visit social networking sites or research financial products such as a new mortgage or a low interest loan, you should always visit reputable sites.

Cyber criminals have a variety of ways to inflict their harm, one such tactic being that they infect your computer by having you accepting what appears to be an innocent application or download.

This type of malicious download is known as a ‘trojan horse’. Whilst it appears to be downloading your desired application, it also steals data from the computer and damages your system.

Cyber criminals will then use this personal information to steal money from your bank accounts or purchase items with your credit cards. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are smart and their methods are quick and effective.

Before long, they may have wiped out your savings, run up a huge credit card bill and engaged in further identity theft. Here, they use your details to open credit accounts or engage in other criminal activity.

So always be alert when downloading any files, even if they are from a familiar source. The Federal Trade Commission state that you can protect yourself online by installing anti-virus and anti-spyware software in addition to a firewall.

Ensure you purchase these defensive packages from a reputable company, as some criminals even pretend to offer these online. Go to a store to purchase rather than online if you want to be fully reassured.

Another common way for cyber criminals to elicit your details is to pretend to be your bank or other financial institution and they will often send highly professional looking emails.

They will copy the bank’s logo and it may appear from a quick glance to be genuine. The email content tends to suggest your account has been compromised.

The email will say that unless you log in to verify your details, your account will be temporarily suspended and you may even be told to email back or fill in an attached form with all your personal details.

Under no circumstances should you react to these types of emails or click on the attachments as they will infect your computer and the criminals will use your personal information within moments.

If you are unsure if your bank has emailed you (and most do not), always telephone your bank using the number written on your statement. Do not use the number in the email.

Most people will have heard of the Nigerian lottery scam, where an email arrives saying you have won millions of dollars. This is another phishing scam, so do not react.

If you are looking for finance, consider a low interest loan rather than believing in criminally backed fairy stories.

Remember to always use anti-virus and anti-spyware applications in addition to a firewall.

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