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A Meeting of Minds and Money

Today marks the beginning of ‘ID Fraud Awareness Week’ and it is also the week that will finally witness the launch of GetSafeOnline, a Home-Office backed meeting of minds and money intended to tackle the now rampant problem of consumer and small-business-focused internet fraud.

With help from BBC Top Gear’s Richard Hammond, Cabinet Office Minister, John Hutton and the National Hi-tech crime Unit’s Sharon Lemon, the initiative will be a public-private partnership supported by the likes of eBay, Yell.Com, Lloyds TSB, HSBC and Microsoft among the prominent sponsors keen to see an end to the online exploitation of Joe and Joanna public.

Only last week, we heard how a retired teacher had £250,000 stolen from her Lloyds TSB savings account following the sale of her home, in one of the most serious cases seen to date of ID fraud, a crime that is close to becoming out of control, with the Home Office estimating £1.3bn is now being stolen every year. According to police figures, computer crime alone cost UK businesses £2.4bn in the last twelve months and many sources would agree, that faced by highly diversified and energetic activities of organised crime groups; this figure is more likely to rise than fall in the short term

Writing this, I’m one of the few security columnists I know who is prepared to risk using an online bank account and that’s only because I have more than one, all with different passcodes. In fact, bank interest rates are so derisory these days, that what little money I do have, I’m inclined to keep away from the banks anyway but in my own view, I’m safer by not placing all my eggs in one basket. In reality though, I’m not as secure as I like to think I am, because anyone of a number of Trojan key logger programs queuing-up at the other side of my internet firewall, are just waiting for the opportunity to harvest anything that looks vaguely like my bank account information, given the opportunity. Miss a patch or an anti-virus update and some gang in Estonia could be living the high-life on a can of baked beans, bought with the contents of my Halifax savings account by the end of the week.

Richard Hammond, with his humour and boyish good-looks set to be the new face of online common-sense from this month, in an effort to try and persuade people not to give away their personal and financial information over the internet to anyone who happens to ask them nicely for it. Behind him will be the online muscle of companies such as eBay and Yell.Com, who, in partnership with the other GetSafeOnline sponsors will be pushing the “Is it Safe” message to customers and visitors at every opportunity.

Will this make a difference? I’m sure it will as after all, good information security is invariably an education problem but encouraging common sense online is a little more of a challenge and you only have to walk into my local PC repair shop to see what I mean, much of his business being devoted to removing viruses from customers computers that are stacked on the floor of his workshop.

If we can’t persuade the general public to ignore the financial risks present in 0990 numbers or ‘Crazy Frog’ ringtones can we persuade to change their online behaviour instead? Over to you Richard Hammond.

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