Protect Yourself Online

It's the case of the gamer who wasn't there, or who was there too much.

The other day a friend emailed me a link to a spot of online gaming Korean style. This pal of mine is big on his MMORPG's so I thought I'd give it a go. Nothing like swinging a sword or casting a spell in the general direction of a gang of goblins, I thought to myself. Half an hour of downloading later, I started filling in the registration form and then alarm bells started ringing.

I was halfway through the form before I began to get suspicious. The questions started innocently enough with name, email address etc. Then there were fields for gender, date of birth, social security number and passport number. What!! What the hell? I'm only signing up for some online gaming, not the official secrets act. I know Korea has some weird gaming curfews and the like, which could lead them to ask for an inordinate amount of information, but the fact remains that handing over all, or even part of that data would have left me wide open to ID theft.

And this got me thinking about how many gamers are unaware of the power held in the information they part with everyday online.

ID theft occurs when someone uses personal information such as name, address, bank account or credit card number to obtain credit or goods under false pretences. The first you may know about it is when the bills come rolling in or you are refused for credit and have no idea why. Believe it or not, all a fraudster needs is a simple receipt or bank statement. This provides enough information for a criminal to open new accounts in your name and leave you to clean up the mess.

But you don't need to worry because the credit card company will pick up the bill if anyone stacks up debt on your card without you knowing – a nice dream, but wrong. Victims of fraud can be left with a pile of debts, lose out on job opportunities and may be unable to secure a mortgage or loans as a result of a badly marred credit status. It can take a lot of time, money and not to mention stress to put things right. You may even have to prove your innocence.

ID theft is the fastest growing crime in the US, according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) statistics state that online scams alone led to 160,000 cases of ID theft in 2002 and losses of $343 million. Technology is advancing, but fraudsters are always one step ahead. I bet you didn't know how valuable your trash could be to a fraudster, did you?

As they say, one man's rubbish is another man's treasure and that's particularly true of those intent on committing ID fraud. Fraudsters will regularly go through domestic trash bags to find the discarded receipts that offer them a golden ticket to your ID. In the UK, we have even had cases of criminals paying gangs of homeless people to raid trash bags for them.

Online security fears are nothing more than the overgrown suspicions of modern-day Luddites, right? Not quite. The convenience and overwhelming freedom of choice gives online shopping its addictive appeal – Christmas has never been so easy. But the fact remains that ID fraudsters were around before the e-commerce revolution and they are alive and well today.

Gamers are a technology savvy bunch, early adopters and don't really need to concern themselves with this mainstream technophobia. Er….wrong. Some simple precautions is all it takes to wise up to the potential dangers. I'm sure we all know most of them, but the question is do we actually adhere to them. The figures suggest we don't.

If we're so well versed in the ways of the Internet and the latest technology then we can follow a few simple steps to protect ourselves from ID fraud. Remember that old wives tale about secure sites? Reality check, it's true, make sure you only use secure sites. Don't just fill in online forms willy nilly, without thinking about the information you are giving away. There is never any need for someone to take your passport number, so be suspicious of sites that demand it. Rip up receipts before disposing of them and apply this same precaution to bank and mobile phone statements. Oh and the last, but vital piece of advice is check your statements when you get them. Don't just stick them in that ornamental letter holder you bought in Miami. Open them and check the transactions.

Take heed play chums and then you can have yourselves a future of happy gaming, online pre-ordering and the like. And how do I know all this nifty stuff about ID fraud? If I told you, I'd have to kill you.

Most played: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II

Most wanted: Rez for my Dreamcast

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