Net Crimes and Misdemeanors: Outmanoeuvering Web Spammers, Stalkers and Con Artists

Stuart Hannabuss (Aberdeen Business School, Aberdeen, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 23 May 2008




Hannabuss, S. (2008), "Net Crimes and Misdemeanors: Outmanoeuvering Web Spammers, Stalkers and Con Artists", Library Review, Vol. 57 No. 5, pp. 392-394.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The world is a dangerous place. For sure, the online world is. Jayne Hitchcock is an American cybercrime expert and adviser with plenty of experience of it, dealing with it, and helping other people deal with it. This is the second edition of Net Crimes, the first having appeared in 2002, and, as she says herself (and would say), the issues remain topical. The context of her book is very much the USA but the issues raised in it apply anywhere. In fact, by its very nature, online or cybercrime is truly international: scams, spam, viruses, chat‐room harassment, phishing (identity fraud), and the risks of online shopping and banking are familiar challenges for anyone and everyone in today's world. Some of the “crime” is mere chat, but it can easily turn into harassment: as Hitchcock says “from trust to terror”.

This is one reasonably priced book in a series from this publisher on related topics (like employee monitoring, finding personal information online, using the Internet for teaching and learning, searching on the Internet, and misinformation there). In fact, among the generous advice provided by Net Crimes, the author recommends regular “ego searches or surfs” as one of the ways to stay safe. Ego surfs are when you try to find out what information there is out there about you, something technically possible because of bots, which search for keywords. Online safety is the watchword throughout the book, not just for children (although there are chapters just on that) but on adults, employees, and companies too. The focus is on adults and children more in their personal lives, and generally, than (for adults) on their lives at work, though as we know they crossover in many ways.

What readers will find attractive and memorable about this book will be the numerous examples (some would say anecdotes, others would call some of them rather plotlines for films!) where cybercrime impacts on ordinary people. Hitchcock has and provides many instances of where people found themselves, suddenly and quite innocently, the target of a spammer or stalker or troll (someone who lurks maliciously in chat‐rooms and online forums). Some of these stories, like the one about Amy Boyer, became national news. Hitchcock has structured the book clearly in order to go through a wide range of relevant topics and issues: stalking and scams, spam and fighting it, online hoaxes (like David Allen who might have been ill), online shopping and banking and auctions, phishing (eBay might be dangerous but with Paypal tries to keep crime down), stalkers who make a personal life a misery, beasts online (trolls, flamers, and spoofers), chat‐rooms and instant messaging, bullying and the dangers of the search for love online, workplace safety, the police and the law, universities, and encryption.

This wide menu is examined as it stands – clearly to inform readers, new and experienced, as to what these things are and how they can happen – but it allows Hitchcock to do two other useful things. The first is to give vivid examples of what happens and how it happens, with examples of emails to‐and‐fro, the hoax emails victims get about their credit and banking details, how the personal trust in personal ads might be exploited, how e‐newspapers often lead to the surreptitious installation of spyware on victims' computers, and what filters are available. The second is to provide readers with a wealth of advice on how to fight cybercrime. With every chapter tips are provided – on how to fight spam, bid safely in an online auction, how to find out whether an adoption website is legitimate, how to avoid identity theft, use metasearch engines for an ego surg, deal with online bullying, and when to go to the law.

The wider debate in this field, of course, is the extent to which this is big and/or necessarily getting worse or better, and Hitchcock offers some fleeting facts and figures about that. Her chapter on urban legends and hoaxes contains the moral that we might all be victims of our own fears here. The wider debate also includes other issues – the extent to which we can and should rely on technological solutions (like filters and firewalls) for safety, the extent to which we can and should rely on the law (not a theme Hitchcock examines as such, no fault because the book is nor primarily about that), and the extent to which any form of safety measure militates against free speech (that well‐known debate about freedom of expression that reflects the First Amendment and, elsewhere than the USA, the matter of free speech). Defamation, for instance, has always been poised between the right of free speech and alleged harms caused by it, and online this is no different.

So an informative and helpful and topical book, offering a lot of information and, in an appendix (and an associated website) a wide range of appropriate resources to pursue and research. An important stance of the book is that people should be aware, know how to protect themselves, know where to go so that they can discover whether another party is to be trusted or not. So as well as citing various causes in the USA in which Hitchcock herself and others have become involved, the book refers readers to services like Sam Spade (allowing suspects to be traced), privacy steps one can take on AOL and Yahoo!Chat, how to find out if messages on eBay are genuine, and behind all this what bodies like the IFCC (Internet Fraud Complaint Center) and the IFW (Internet Fraud Watch) are doing. For some of these, the actual procedures are described and can be followed through online to keep you safe (and make you feel more so).

By this token, then, this is more a book for the general reader than for the IT and cyber expert as such, although any professional (like a librarian in a public library) will want and need to know his/her way around the issues. It is also a book you can read “as if it were a book” and not merely a handbook or manual. Readers will, I think, like this reviewer, identify readily with the victims who find that their identity has been hi‐jacked and then, in a state of resentment and panic, wonder what on earth to do about it. Where trust turns, if not to terror, then to harassment – and there are villains out there – it is wise to know what Hitchcock knows and this book delivers the goods.

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