Previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network December 27, 2011. All information currently relevant as of January 2, 2015.
If you're tired of people stealing your email address and using it fraudulently to approach every person in your contact list, or if you or one of your loved ones has been criminally attacked on the Internet, read on.
In partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and funded in part by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) , the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), formerly known as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, is the Internet's watchdog, and it works diligently to prevent Internet crime.
The mission of IC3 is "to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime." IC3 investigates your stolen email, along with other Internet crime complaints, and if IC3 feels the perpetrators are in violation of the law, it refers complaints to the proper authorities, whether they are local, state, federal, and/or international. Many of these agencies participate in Cyber Crime Task Forces and partner with IC3 to prosecute Internet criminals.
Won't Changing Your Password Help?
You may have already learned that changing your password does nothing to protect you from criminals who continue to send deceitful emails to all of your contacts using YOUR email address. Once these Internet miscreants have your email address and your contact list, no matter how many times you change your password, they still have your email address, and they still have your contact list; they will continue to harass you, your friends, and your relatives.
Even though they have access to your email contacts, you should change your password anyway - to prevent future attacks. Using a combination of capital letters, lower case letters, and numbers for your password will make stealing your email address difficult for Internet criminals. It might help to get a different email address.
Before You Contact IC3...
If the Internet crime is email related, before contacting IC3, try contacting your email provider. Google suggests you make sure you have a secure connection before you send or receive any emails, which means that instead of seeing http in your url, your url should read https. Click Google to contact them if you are having problems.
To report stolen email addresses at Yahoo, click Yahoo.
Disreputable con artists sometimes send emails pretending to be your email provider. I have received numerous emails purporting to come from one of my mail providers - mail.com - asking me for my password and personal information, because, the email claims, a computer glitch has caused my email provider to lose all of my information.
But when I look at the sender's email address I notice the email is not from mail.com and therefore is not an official mail.com email. If you have a mail.com email address and are experiencing this same type of fraud, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RED FLAG ALERT: If emails arrive filled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, suspect criminal activity. Quality organizations never send unprofessional emails, nor do they set up unprofessional web pages.
When to Report Cyber Crime
If you have already contacted your email provider and your issue has not been resolved, the only other way to stop Internet criminal activity is to report the crimes to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. (Clicking the link will take you directly to their web site.)
Some spoofers are more a nuisance than they are an actual threat. Get a new email address if you have to, and alert your friends of the change. If, however, the spoofing has crossed the line into threatening or harassing emails, such as cyber bullying, ask friends and relatives to forward the stolen email to you. Once you have the information from the email that purports to come from you (or even if it comes from some other source), report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Filling Out The Internet Crime Complaint Center's Questionnaire
When you enter the web page for the Internet Crime Complaint Center you will see a questionnaire. Include as much information as is available to you. The IC3 questionnaire alerts the FBI that your email address has been stolen or that other crimes have been committed against you. If the crime is an email crime, copy the email address of the sender and paste it into your complaint. Copy and paste any name that appears next to the sender's email address as well. Include the date of the email and all other information contained within the fraudulent email.
Sometimes the only information you find in the email, other than the sender's email address, is one link to a web site. Other times perpetrators promise to send you money in exchange for your social security number, bank routing and account numbers, pin numbers, and other important personal information. Often, a money exchange has already taken place and you or your friends are out thousands of dollars.
If the crime has been committed on a social networking site, include the date, the name of the recipient, and copy any conversations that took place.
Whatever your reason for reporting the incident(s), either your email address - your email identity - has been stolen and your Internet friends are getting barraged with unsolicited emails that appear to be coming from you, or you are suffering from comments made about you or to you on social networking sites.
Too Many Types of Internet Crimes
An Internet thief, who claimed to be one of my cousins, requested money from all of my cousin's contacts stating that he was stranded in another country and needed our help to come home. His sad story revealed that all of his money and credit cards had been stolen. I forwarded the suspicious email to my cousin who confirmed my suspicions - the email was a scam. Had any of my cousin's contacts fallen for the fictitious email, they might have been out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Another scam is the job offer scam. With the economy forcing so many people out of work, job offers that appear in your inbox seem promising. But look at the sender. Does it come from a company to which you applied? If you hit the reply button, does it take you to a company whose name you recognize? If not, do not click any links that are provided in the email and do not respond to the email.
Chances are, if the email seems suspicious and the sender is asking for personal information in exchange for the promise of a job offer, it probably is. If you follow through by clicking the link, you will have just become the victim of a crime. Report it.
Not Enough Information to Report?
Reporting Internet crime is not a long process - you just fill out the questionnaire provided by The Internet Crime Complaint Center. Not all of the information requested in the form will be present in the email. That's okay. Give whatever information you have. The important thing to remember is that the more often you report Internet crime, the more likely YOU won't be bothered by it.
By allowing people to repeatedly use your email address to solicit YOUR friends and relatives, you are giving the offender your permission to harass people about whom you care. Your friends may decide to stop opening emails that come from you. Or worse, they will unknowingly participate in organizations they believe YOU have endorsed. If you don't want your friends and family members cheated by unscrupulous Internet thieves, report the criminals.
Looks Too Good To Be True
Sometimes an unsolicited email appears to be so attractive you can't help but wonder if you really will "inherit" a million dollars. Even though you know it can't be true, the thought of becoming instantaneously wealthy is exciting, but if it Looks Too Good To Be True (click the link), it probably is.
Looks Too Good To Be True is a web site linked from the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Looks Too Good To Be True is "part of a joint effort between the United States Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC)" devoted to protecting consumers by arming them with knowledge about the latest Internet scams.
Looks Too Good To Be True instructs its readers about the different types of fraud, including money scams, phishing scams, and work at home scams. They even provide authentic work-from-home job opportunities. Looks Too Good To Be True also issues consumer alerts. If you click "Victim Stories" on their site, you will see the range of Internet crimes committed by "unscrupulous manipulators of the con game," to quote from one of the Victim Stories.
Revealing Personal Information
I have had to report Internet crimes myself, especially when I have received emails offering to send me LOTS of money if only I would reveal my social security number, banking information, address, and phone number. Fortunately, I know better than to divulge any personal information, including passwords. No reputable company will EVER ask you for your password, even if the company requesting the password is a company you often use. REPEAT - NO REPUTABLE COMPANY OR AGENCY WILL EVER ASK YOU FOR YOUR PASSWORD!
After you fill out the IC3 questionnaire, your part is over - the FBI will not harass you for reporting Internet crimes. I have filled out several forms at The Internet Crime Complaint Center, and never once have I been contacted by the FBI, nor have I received any spam as a result of reporting the incidents.
When I receive a suspicious email from one of my email buddies, I email my contact directly and ask if he or she had sent the email. Once my email friends know their email was hacked, they can contact their email provider or, if that doesn't help, they can contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center themselves and report the crime.
Protecting Your Email Contacts
You can protect contacts in your email list by using the BCC command whenever you forward emails. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Internet thieves can't steal email addresses of contacts whose names and email addresses they can't see. The next time you forward an email, put yourself in the "Send to" box and BCC all of your other contacts; the recipient of the email will see only his or her name in the "To" portion of the email.
Sadly the people who get scammed the most are gullible, vulnerable individuals who want to believe that what they are reading is true. Internet thieves prey on such individuals. If you have your email identity stolen, or if other Internet crimes are committed against you or your loved ones, such as cyber bullying (which occurs often on social networking sites), you owe it to them and to yourself to report the crime, even if you haven't lost any money.
Be vigilant of not only your own emails, but also of those delivered to your children or grandchildren and to your elderly parents or grandparents. The thieves and manipulators are no longer sneaking in through windows and doors - they are already inside your home.
For more information about preventing cyber crime, please peruse these Consumer Alerts links provided by The Internet Crime Complaint Center:
Remember the words of Edmund Burke, "All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." (I'd like to add, "and women.")