For today’s post, I want to talk about healthy, skeptical web browsing and messaging. The Internet, as we all know, is a great place with lots of information and plenty of opinions, but there are also many dark and scary places, just out of sight. Often the only separation between the two is a link or a couple of links. To be an effective computer user today, you have to be skeptical of what you see on your screen and what you are being told.
This dose of skepticism should be applied to pages you view on the web, messages you receive via email and Facebook wall posts and messages. I recently heard a story about a bank manager who frequently had to stop his customers from wiring money overseas because of an email they got from a fictional Nigerian Prince or an illusory stranded relative. In case this draws a blank from you, two recently recurring scams on the internet have been known scams for over 10 years. The Nigerian Prince, who inherited 400 million dollars (or some other absorbant sum of money) and now needs a bank account number for transfer, plays on our sense of greed. We think to ourself how much money that is and override the skeptical part of our mind that should be sending off a red alert.
The other recurring scam is a bit more emotionally involved. What happens here is you’ll get an email or Facebook message saying that someone you know is trapped in Europe and needs money to get back home. We want to help our friends, but these aren’t our friends. They are con artists trained in the school of hard knocks to pull money out of anyone. And the only alert you may have is a sneaking suspicion that something funny is going on.
Both of these cons involve money and are therefore serious threats to your financial situation and your identity. However, there are other internet scams that are more subtle. I’m aware now of an article in The Atlantic called, Out of Osama’s Death, a Fake Quotation is Born. The summary of the article is that there has been a fake quote circling the internet, attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
A touching sentiment I know, but for me it sure took the wind out of my sails regarding the American victory and the death of Osama bin Laden. When I read this, it was from what I considered a trusted source, so I did not greet it with the normal skepticism that I should have, so I believed it was true. I didn’t properly vet the quote, by googling the entire quote to see who it was attributed to. I didn’t do proper research to make sure this was an actual quote. In other words, I fell for it. It didn’t cost me any money. It didn’t cost me my identity, but it sure took the skip out of my step that I had after the great news on Sunday night May 1st. Maybe we shouldn’t revel in the death of another human. Maybe the Nigerian Prince really does need his inheritance laundered. Maybe my friend really is lost in Europe. Either way, it’s in my best interest, in our best interest, to be skeptical of anything anyone tells you on the internet. It might not be true.