Avoid being an Internet target, follow some simple rules

In Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a con man who convinces the elites that he’s a Princeton graduate goes on to dupe his way into high society and spend lavishly at high-end stores through forgery and other unscrupulous methods.

Had Tom Ripley been alive today he’d likely be hacking his way to wealth and creating his bogus backstory of success on social media sites.

Increasingly, criminals are following the money that flows online. Phishing, fake software and shopping sites and tech support scams allow access to personal records and credit cards. The federal government and South Florida law enforcement say that untold billions are now stolen from victims in the U.S. and abroad each year — a number that is only growing.

The best way to avoid getting ripped off, say law enforcement experts and internet sleuths, is to abide by a late 20th century proverb that still very much applies today: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“You have an anonymity factor, so they take more chances,” said South Florida Cyber Crimes Commander George Perera, a major with the Miami-Dade Police Department. “Much of the internet is unregulated. Now you have crypto and it’s unregulated, too. It’s like a Category 6 scenario.”

Here are some suggestions by and the Federal Trade Commission on how to navigate the internet safely:

Avoid using the same passwords on multiple accounts and make sure those passwords are unpredictable.

Don’t give personal information to unencrypted websites. Encrypted sites begin with https.

Keep your computer software updated and talk to your kids about possible pitfalls.

To avoid cryptocurrency ripoffs:

Never pay in advance and keep in mind that cryptocurrency payments, unlike credit and debit cards, do not come with legal protections.

Always research the seller, keeping a particular eye out for civil lawsuits.

Never mix online dating and investment advice.

And if someone calls you out of the blue with promises of huge returns, but only if you buy cryptocurrency and transfer it to their online account, steer clear.

Lastly, if you believe you’ve been scammed, don’t hesitate to contact the South Florida Cyber Crimes Task Force at Miami-Dade Police, or use the non-emergency number, 305-4-POLICE (305-476-5423) and ask for the cyber crimes unit. Or contact the FTC or

Chuck Rabin, writing news stories for the Miami Herald for the past three decades, covers cops and crime. Before that he covered the halls of government for Miami-Dade and the city of Miami. He’s covered hurricanes, the 2000 presidential election and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. On a random note: Long before those assignments, Chuck was pepper-sprayed covering the disturbances in Miami the morning Elián Gonzalez was whisked away by federal authorities.

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