In April, a young man called Amir decided to sell a broken laptop on eBay. This kind of thing unfortunately happens regularly, and the scammers never get what they deserve. Or almost never.
Clever scammers can get away with it, but unfortunately for our friend Amir, he wasn’t clever. Yes, the laptop he sold was broken, but the hard drive remained intact. And the buyer? Now, him, he was clever. He created a website for Amir.
On the laptop’s hard drive, Amir left the following:
- Lots of porn,
- Some foot fetishism,
- Plenty of webcam photos of himself shirtless,
- A disturbing number of photos of ladies’ legs taken with his camera phone on the tube,
- And some more porn…
But more seriously, Amir left things such as:
- A scan of his passport (he was born in Milton Keynes),
- His bank details,
- His mum’s bank details,
- Multiple copies of his CV (all with different GCSE grades),
- Full access to MSN and Hotmail (automatically signed in).
So Amir’s shot himself in the foot and the backfire could have been a lot worse if the owner of the new laptop had wanted to make it so.
Putting that situation aside, we, as normal non-scamming people, need to learn to protect our personal data. There are as many reasons to protect your personal information as there are types of information to protect. So much of our information is now available in digital format, which means it can be duplicated and shared easily.
However, there is a fine line between being careful and being paranoid. For example, if your home wireless network is secure, well protected and all computers on the network are in a “healthy” state, there is no need to turn off the wireless router every time you’re done surfing the web. That’s just impractical and silly. (Also, the tin foil hat, take that off now please. Ah, that’s better, you were starting to get on my nerves with that!) But it’s worth shredding/ripping letters with your name and address on it, holding your hand or your wallet over your other hand while entering your PIN when shopping and checking that your bank’s outdoor cash point hasn’t been modified.
Tips to keep your personal information safe:
- Shred letters and paperwork with your name on it before throwing it out or recycling it
- Put your hand or your wallet over your other hand to hide your PIN as you enter it (if at an outdoor cash, have a look over your shoulder to be sure no dodgy person is looking over your shoulder)
- If a cash machine looks like it’s been tampered with, don’t risk it and go to a safer cash point
- Don’t enter your bank details on websites you don’t completely trust, and ensure the security certificate matches the site address
- Keep passports and important personal papers locked up in a safe and keep a tally of the cards in your wallet (so you can easily and quickly cancel and replace them if your wallet gets stolen)
- If you use USB keys to carry business data, encrypt your files when possible and keep the damn key close to yourself. The boss wouldn’t be pleased to know you’ve lost a copy of your top secret files while at a conference filled with your competitors, would he? (more from the BBC on this topic)
- Use common sense – Before you sign up, agree to or hand over your details for any service or transaction, take a step back and question whether it’s a good idea or not.
As for Amir, last time I checked, the site had seen
just over a million visitors in three weeks (of which +600,000 were from the past 3 days) close to three million viewers – most of which are from the past week, which in Internet terms is nothing, but I’m sure laptopguy got more revenge satisfaction out of that than by whinging to his mates at the pub.
Moral of the story, keep your personal data safe. And don’t leave half-nude photos of yourself on your hard drive if you want to scam someone on eBay – it’ll bite back!
 Having watched Dispatches: Britain’s Rubbish, I’m more careful than ever when disposing of personal paperwork. You expect your recycling goods to go straight into pulping machines, but they’re in fact intercepted by so many disgruntled low-pay employees who could very well use your paperwork for their own gain that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
 This took me over a week to post so the numbers changed drastically every day!