"A unique, wry and often satirical look at the Internet, the modern age and life in general" (there is way too much search-engine competition for the phrase "incoherent ramblings")

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sure-fire defense against identity theft - LEARN TO READ!

As yet another request to urgently verify my bank details online lands in my inbox (funny, I didn't know I had an account in the National Credit Union) I have got to thinking about the issue of protection against online fraudsters and the whole question of literacy.

Computer literacy
I know that my calls for compulsory netiquette and basic Internet and literacy training for new computer users will fall on the ears of the largely-converted, so it's scarcely worth bothering. But just in case it saves at least one person from being defrauded online, I will take the time to say this: "Banks DO NOT EVER ask you to 'verify' your details online". If you ever get an email requesting you to do so, supposedly as a result of some "Unusual activity" (sounds ominous, right?), no matter how persuasive it may sound, DO NOT follow the link or obey the instructions. This is almost certainly an attempt (known as "phishing") to steal your personal details and probably defraud you of the contents of your bank account. Ring your bank instead.

General literacy
But an even more basic form of defense would be simply to improve our literacy in the English language. Most of these phishing attempts are made by barely-literate low-life criminals, or non-native speakers and the emails that they send usually abound in mistakes. If our literacy was generally better, we would far more readily spot fraud attempts when they arrive in our inboxes (your real bank wouldn't send a badly-worded, mispelled letter to its customer, right?)!

Let's take a recent example:

Dear Credit Union member,
You have received this email because you or someone had used your account from different locations.

"someone HAD used..."? Surely "has"? No time for grammar lessons here, a native speaker would never say that.

For security purpose, we are required to open an investigation into this matter.

Don't they mean "...for security purposeS.."?

In order to safeguard your account, we require that you confirm your online banking details.

The help speeed up to this process, please access the following link...

Do what? If you don't see anything wrong with this last sentence, go back and read it again.

The problem is partly that we are too panicked by the possibility of some "unusual activity" connected with our precious account to notice the glaring mistakes.

But the problem is also one of basic literacy - we just don't notice mistakes because our eyes are not trained by quality reading.

So if you want to avoid getting defrauded online, the answer is READ MORE!