Thursday, July 30, 2009

Online Rental Ads Could be Phony

You can’t believe your good fortune—you find a rental home in a nice area through a Craigslist classified ad at an unbelievably low rate. The landlord—who had to leave the country and travel to Nigeria—asks that you wire him two months’ worth of rent. You arrive at the home on the agreed-upon date, but there’s just one small problem—the house is not actually for rent and its owners know nothing about your agreement.

This latest scam being perpetrated by Nigerian criminals located halfway around the world has been seen in a number of U.S. states, perhaps in response to the current housing market—with fewer people buying, more people are renting.

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But it’s not really a new scam, just a variation of an old one. The so-called 419 scheme—named after the Nigerian penal code section under which this particular kind of fraud is prosecuted—has been around since the early 1980s. The common thread running through these kinds of scams? The victims are solicited by Nigerian criminals to transfer money out of the U.S. and into the criminals’ pockets…usually by being promised something in return. And these schemes are profitable, costing victims millions of dollars annually.

In South Carolina, the rental scam problem has become so prevalent that Columbia FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas recently issued a warning about it to homeowners and prospective renters, particularly in the Charleston, Columbia, and Hilton Head areas. The scam has also ensnared victims in Rhode Island, Illinois, Colorado, and California, among other states.

How exactly does the rental housing scam work? The criminals search websites that list homes for sale. They take the information in those ads—lock, stock, and barrel—and post it, with their own e-mail address, in an ad on Craigslist (without Craigslist’s consent or knowledge) under the housing rentals category. To sweeten the pot, the houses are almost always listed with below-market rental rates.

An interested party will contact the “homeowner” via e-mail, who usually explains that he or she had to leave the U.S. quickly because of some missionary or contract work in Africa. Victims are usually instructed to send money overseas—enough to cover the first and last month’s rent—via a wire transfer service (because the crooks know it can’t be traced once it gets picked up on the other end).

Renters might sometimes be asked to fill out credit applications asking for personal information like credit history, social security numbers, and work history. The Nigerian crooks can then use this info to commit identity fraud and steal even more money from their victims.

How to avoid being victimized:

* Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
* Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
* Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
* Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
* Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

If you suspect a scam, have already been victimized, or know someone who has fallen victim to a scam, please report it to our Internet Crime Complaint Center to help us determine the extent of the problem.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Keep Kids Out of Cyber-Trouble: Top Tips for 6 Problem Areas

/PRNewswire/ -- Every day, it seems, the news carries another cyber-horror story. Last week, five Internet predators in Pennsylvania were arrested for sexually propositioning undercover agents in a chat room, in several cases sending nude webcam videos of themselves to agents they believed were 13- and 14-year-old girls. On the same day, a truck driver in England pleaded guilty to seven counts of rape after admitting forming relationships with two girls on the Internet before sexually assaulting them.

For parents, the first line of defense against Internet dangers is to have frank and ongoing discussions about online stranger-danger, the need to keep personal information private, and the potential consequences of inappropriate online behavior. A revealing photo sent on a cellphone or posted on a social network site, for example, can live on in cyberspace for years with damaging effects on everything from personal relationships to job prospects. And a flirtatious online conversation can literally turn deadly.

Beyond the need for parent-child communication on the subject of cyber-risks, InternetSafety.com

recommends a variety of strategies that parents can use to help keep their children safe. Here are some basic tips for six common activities:

-- Sexting - The increasingly common practice of sending sexually
suggestive text messages, photos or videos through cell phones is a
big worry. It can invite public humiliation, cyberbullying or even
sexual assault. Teenagers are even being charged with child
pornography for sending or posting racy photos. One way to limit
children's sexting opportunities is to retrieve their cellphones at
night and charge them in the parents' room. Phones today are simply
small computers, and they should be regulated in the same way as those
larger machines.
-- Social Networking - Rule #1 is that children should never post
anything they wouldn't be comfortable showing to their parents,
teacher, or youth worker. One way to discourage inappropriate entries
is to join the social networks that your kids are on and 'friend' your
own children so that you can monitor what they're posting.
-- Chatting - Chat rooms are not only nesting places for predators, but
they often indirectly encourage rude and even abusive interactions
between users due to the anonymity and lack of consequences. If your
child is using chat rooms, find out which ones and check them out for
yourself. If you are uncomfortable with specific chat sites, you might
consider using filtering software to block access to those sites or
log all chats for later review.
-- Gaming - Increasingly popular MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games)
like Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft are massively addictive, with
reports of non-stop sessions as long as 48 or 72 hours. To prevent the
unhealthy practice of spending more time in a virtual world than a
real one, parents should either refuse to buy these games or impose
time limits. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more
than two hours of screen time per day per child 12 and under.) If the
child breaks the rules, simply uninstall the game from the computer or
confiscate the disc.
-- Searching - On most popular search engines including Google, the
safe-search settings aren't completely effective and are easy to turn
off. For that reason, younger children should not have a computer in
their room, and their computer use should be supervised. Filtering
software can also protect both younger and older children from
exposure to websites with adult, violent or other inappropriate
content.
-- File-Sharing - Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks such as
BitTorrent, uTorrent, Bearshare and Limewire allow totally unregulated
access to files that other network members have shared, including
illegal pirated material and child pornography, not to mention opening
computers to security risks. Banning these programs in your home is a
good idea. Check your family computer periodically to be sure that no
one has downloaded any of them, and remove them if they have.

More tips as well as tools to safeguard children against cyber-dangers can be found at www.internetsafety.com .

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Friday, July 24, 2009

U.S. Forces Afghanistan Logs 20,000 Facebook Fans

U.S. Forces Afghanistan's Facebook page logged its 20,000th fan today, passing the milestone a little more than two months after going public, making it the fastest-growing official military Facebook page, military officials here said.

The fan page at http://www.facebook.com/usforcesafghanistan is one of the main tools used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan to disseminate news and imagery from its operations, and counter and pre-empt extremist propaganda, officials said.

In June, for example, command officials posted video on the page to quickly counter terrorist claims that U.S. troops had attacked civilians in the city of Asadabad. The video, captured by Combined Joint Task Force 82, exonerated U.S. troops and shifted blame for the attack to insurgents, who threw a grenade into a crowd gathered near a disabled American truck.

The command used the site in May to display a series of videos taken from the biggest drug interdiction operation of the war. More recently, officials shared videos of U.S. air strikes, illustrating the care forces take to ensure civilian safety when using close-air support.

As subscribers to the page, fans receive regular updates from the U.S. headquarters here. Roughly 2,000 people, including fans, visit the page daily. Fans also have full access to post their own comments, links, photos and videos.

To date, the page has fans from at least 18 countries, and is followed by major U.S. and Western media organizations and celebrities. The page's fan base has expanded rapidly, adding more than 250 followers per day, on average, since the launch. Nearly 250 news releases, 19 videos and hundreds of photos have been added to the site.

(American Forces Press Service; From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sprint 4G Coming to Atlanta in August

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sprint (NYSE:S) today announced that turbo-charged Sprint 4G mobile broadband will be available in Atlanta beginning in August. This will make Atlanta residents among the first in America to experience the lightning-fast speeds of the first wireless 4G network from a national carrier.

Sprint 4G will offer a hot spot the size of a city to both businesses and consumers. Customers will experience fast mobile broadband speeds across Atlanta provided by a proven nationwide mobile broadband carrier. The first national carrier to test, launch and market wireless 4G technology, Sprint was also the first to offer access to both 3G and 4G with the 3G/4G USB Modem U300. Atlanta consumers will be able to access super-fast mobile broadband speeds on the go, and business customers will also be able to take advantage of Sprint’s ability to combine its 4G capability into its product offering along with its extensive suite of wireless-wireline integration and Global IP solutions, as well as the nation’s most dependable 3G network*. Additional information about Sprint 4G launch plans and services in Atlanta will be announced in August.

Sprint 4G customers will step up to wireless connections that deliver peak downlink speeds of more than 10 Mbps and average downlink speeds of 3-6 Mbps. Sprint 4G speeds and capabilities are three to five times faster than the 3G service offered by any national wireless carrier today, based on average download speeds.

Sprint made history by launching 4G in Baltimore in September 2008, then by launching the first dual-mode 3G/4G USB Modem device in December. The roll-out of 4G in other major markets in 2009 continues to deliver on Sprint’s promise to offer a faster Internet experience than any other national wireless service provider in cities across the nation. In addition to Atlanta, Las Vegas and Portland in August, Sprint also plans to deploy Sprint 4G in these markets in 2009: Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Honolulu, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Sprint is harnessing the power of 4G as the largest shareholder of Clearwire with a 51 percent stake in this independent company that is building the WiMAX network. Sprint is the only national wireless carrier to offer 4G services on the Clearwire WiMAX network.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Facebook needs to improve privacy practices, investigation finds

/PRNewswire/ -- In order to comply with Canadian privacy law, Facebook must take greater responsibility for the personal information in its care, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said today in announcing the results of an investigation into the popular social networking site's privacy policies and practices.

"It's clear that privacy issues are top of mind for Facebook, and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates," says Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

The investigation, prompted by a complaint from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, identified several areas where Facebook needs to better address privacy issues and bring its practices in line with Canadian privacy law.

An overarching concern was that, although Facebook provides information about its privacy practices, it is often confusing or incomplete. For example, the "account settings" page describes how to deactivate accounts, but not how to delete them, which actually removes personal data from Facebook's servers.

The Privacy Commissioner's report recommends more transparency, to ensure that the social networking site's nearly 12 million Canadian users have the information they need to make meaningful decisions about how widely they share personal information.

The investigation also raised significant concerns around the sharing of users' personal information with third-party developers creating Facebook applications such as games and quizzes. (There are more than 950,000 developers in some 180 countries.) Facebook lacks adequate safeguards to effectively restrict these outside developers from accessing profile information, the investigation found.

The report recommended a number of changes, including technological measures to ensure that developers can only access the user information actually required to run a specific application, and also to prevent the disclosure of personal information of any of the user's friends who are not themselves signing up for an application.

The investigation also found that Facebook has a policy of indefinitely keeping the personal information of people who have deactivated their accounts - a violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada's private-sector privacy law. The law is clear that organizations must retain personal information only for as long as is necessary to meet appropriate purposes.

Recommendations to Facebook included the adoption of a retention policy whereby personal information in deactivated accounts is deleted after a reasonable length of time.

Facebook has agreed to adopt many of the recommendations stemming from the Privacy Commissioner's investigation or, in some cases, has proposed reasonable alternatives to the measures recommended. However, there remain a number of recommendations that Facebook has not yet agreed to implement.

"We urge Facebook to implement all of our recommendations to further enhance their site, ensure they are in compliance with privacy law, and ultimately show themselves as models of privacy," says Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who led the investigation on behalf of the Office.

"Social networking sites can be a wonderful way to connect. They help us keep up with friends and share ideas and information with people around the globe. It is important for these sites to be in compliance with the law and to maintain users' trust in how they collect, use and disclose our personal information."

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner will review after 30 days the actions Facebook takes to comply with the recommendations. The Commissioner is empowered to go to Federal Court to seek to have her recommendations enforced.

"The privacy issues stemming from social networking sites are still relatively new. All of us - social networking sites, users and data protection authorities - are only beginning to develop the appropriate rules of engagement in this new world of online communication," says Assistant Commissioner Denham. "The findings of our Facebook investigation are an important contribution to the development of these rules."

While the investigation recommendations are aimed at Facebook, Assistant Commissioner Denham said users of social networking sites also have responsibilities.

"We asked Facebook to clearly advise users about its privacy practices, but it's still up to the user to actually read it and use the privacy tools to control how their information is shared," she says. As a result of the investigation, Facebook has announced a new privacy tool for its site, which is aimed at giving users more control over who gets to see each item on their Facebook page.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fraudsters Continue to Exploit Telecommunications Relay Services

Over the last few years, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received thousands of complaints pertaining to scam artists using Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) to defraud U.S. businesses and consumers. Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act, all telephone companies must provide TRS for individuals with hearing or speech impairments.

A new twist involves several recent reports of perpetrators of these schemes exploiting auto repair shops by using TRS to request services for a vehicle. The fraudster claims the vehicle has to be shipped to the shop and requests the repairs and shipping fees be charged to a credit card. The charges initially go through without any complications, but unbeknownst to the business, the credit card is fraudulent or stolen. The business is then directed to wire the money to the shipper to cover the shipping costs. After the money is wired, the business is notified of the fraudulent credit card and forced to bear the loss.

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Jerusalem, the Holiest City on Earth, Went Online With the Launch of Jerusalem.com

Jerusalem, the Holiest City on Earth, Went Online With the Launch of Jerusalem.com; Jerusalem.com Domain Name was Bought for $750,000


/PRNewswire/ -- Jerusalem.com (http://www.jerusalem.com) was launched today in Jerusalem. The site seeks to become the virtual gateway to religious, historic and modern-day Jerusalem. It is offering a comprehensive experience of today's vital, fascinating urban center, providing unique religious, social and tourism services and bringing the Jerusalem experience to anyone in the world.

The site contains six hubs which are representing for the first time the many faces Jerusalem has, and offering unique services and information regarding the city. One of the highlighted features the site is offering is the ability to submit vocal prayers that are actually being heard in real speakers overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. The site is reporting that hundreds of prayers have already been submitted from more than 72 different countries the world over.

During the launch, the Jerusalem.com team has invited the princess Padmaja from Rajistan, India, who has been visiting Jerusalem for the past few days, to post a voice prayer of her own voice and have sent her special prayer to be heard in Jerusalem's old city. The princess's prayer can be listened to here: http://www.jerusalem.com/article_1044/Princess-Padmajas-Prayer

Other services includes lighting candles at Jerusalem's holy places, planting olive trees in the city surroundings and exporting the different religious calendars to your outlook.

Another important hub on the site is the tourism & culture channel, which offers the most updated and comprehensive information about modern-day Jerusalem, with full guides for the city hotels, restaurants, events, attractions and more.

Michael Weiss, the site's Founder said at the press conference that he "sees Jerusalem.com as a site that belongs to every friend of Jerusalem throughout the world who wishes to interact with the city and feels as closest as possible to physical Jerusalem".

Bought for $750,000, Jerusalem.com is the most expensive domain ever bought in Israel, highlighting the seriousness with which the site's founders have approached the endeavour of representing the city as a place worthy of connecting to.

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