Fraud on the Internet has become one of the most serious threats facing users at present. As e-commerce and online banking services develop and become more widespread, so too do the activities of cyber-criminals, who use a variety of artifices (emails, phishing, Trojans:) to trick the unsuspecting user into parting with their money.
At first, when the use of bank details online was not a common activity, the fraudsters resorted primarily to sending emails that promised the recipients a fortune. One of the most widely distributed mails of this type was the 'Nigerian letter'. This scam involved an email sent to potential victims telling them that they would be substantially rewarded if they helped transfer large sums of money out of Africa before the Nigerian government could confiscate it. The aim of the mail is to get the victim to divulge their bank details so that, supposedly, the transfer can be made.
But this is just the first step. If the victim replies to the mail, the fraudsters ask for a relatively large sum of money as a deposit. Even those who just lost their money can be considered the lucky ones, as on some occasions, the victims have been convinced to travel out to the country from which the money was to be transferred and have never returned.
Even though it has been in circulation for some time, the Nigerian letter is still circulating and there are many variations on the theme, including 'Lottery winner'. This fraud involves a message telling the potential victim that they have won a large amount of money on a lottery somewhere in the world.
Phishing is another fraudulent technique that is becoming widely used on the Internet. This normally involves making users believe they are visiting a trusted website, when really it is a spoof site designed by the cyber-crooks. This is particularly dangerous when it comes to Internet banking, as it is increasingly common to find sites that are exact replicas -including the functionality- of well-known banks' web pages, so the data the user enters goes straight into the hands of the criminals.
Trojans have also become a powerful tool in the hands of these crooks. In general, this type of malware doesn't delete files, display windows with absurd messages, or even send out infected email messages. Nevertheless, they can steal all kinds of information or allow intruders into compromised systems. This is why many Trojans are designed specifically to steal bank details (account numbers, credit card details, passwords, etc.) which can then be used by fraudsters.
Another threat used for financial gain by criminals are dialers. These programs are used to redirect Internet telephone connections to premium-rate numbers with access to certain services such as file downloads or pornographic web pages. Dialers can be installed by Trojans or by remote users and can be set to run when the user starts to connect to the Internet. The victim won't be aware that the connection has been made to the premium-rate number until a huge phone bill arrives at the end of the month.
The fraudulent activities above are some of the most common at present, but needless to say others will appear in the future, as the ingenuity of cyber-crooks is unfortunately tireless and the Internet continues to offer many opportunities for them.