Our View: Common sense, caution key for web users

If readers take anything away from our two-part “Online Threats” series, which concludes with today’s front-page story, we hope it is this: Anyone can be a victim of online predators and scams, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to prevent it.

As reporter Jennifer Learn-Andes pointed out, recent victims locally have ranged from a 6-year-old girl enticed into posting nude videos on YouTube, to a Luzerne County Children and Youth worker whose work email account was used in a hacking scheme.

“I never would have in a million years believed this would happen had I not sat down and interviewed the child and had the child walk me through exactly what happened,” Luzerne County detective Charles Balogh said of the young girl’s case.

Balogh isn’t the only person to be shocked at how cunning scammers can be.

Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition President Charlotte Raup received a message in her email in-box in recent days with an attention-grabbing subject line containing a real password she had used online in the past.

The sender claimed to have hacked into her computer and used the webcam to film her watching an online porn video, threatening to share the video with all her email and social media contacts if she did not send a bitcoin payment within one day.

Raup told Learn-Andes she knew it was a scam because she never viewed porn sites. But the inclusion of her password put this communication in a whole new league that forced her to take notice and do some research instead of simply deleting it like the sea of others she has received in the past.

The fact that community leaders like Balogh and Raup, well familiar with the tactics of criminals, can still be shocked and surprised by new tactics should be cause for alarm.

Members of our staff also have received emails like the one that was sent to Raup, while others have been victims of identity theft in other forms.

We don’t want to scare you. And we certainly would hate to see people deterred from using email and social media — vital tools for keeping in contact with friends and family, especially those far away — due to the malicious actions of a few.

As Balogh pointed out, there is a wealth of tips on the FBI’s cyber crime website, www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber. A few of the highlights:

• Keep your firewall turned on.

• Install or update your antivirus software.

• Keep your operating system up to date.

• Be careful what you download.

There are more good tips on the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect website.

Balogh offers a few more:

• Put black tape over your computer webcams when not using them.

• Add passcodes on all computer devices, including cellphones.

• Don’t give money or personal information or click on unknown links, no matter how tempting or alarming.

• If you become a victim, file police reports.

• Parents should demand to know their children’s passcodes and periodically check to make sure they were not changed, he said.

• With underage children, consider installing parental tracking software on their cellphones — with their knowledge – so you can monitor what they are doing.

Most of all, we would recommend one bit of advice that holds true in life generally: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Nigerian princes typically don’t seek out random Americans to facilitate large international transactions for large fees, and foreign lotteries don’t award millions by email.

— Times Leader