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Monday, July 9, 2001

Personal details for sale
Jagmohan Singh Khurmi

NEOPHYTE Net users usually commit the mistake of giving address and phone numbers while making e-mail IDs. Thousands make this mistake daily and thus run the risk of revealing their identities to strangers. The only reason why some very prominent Web sites provide free e-mail service is because they gain access to your personal data in the process. This information is invaluable for marketing professionals and others engaged in commercial research. That’s why you will often find some Web sites dying to get your e-mail address.

They may promise to get you anything from a free cola to a trip abroad in return. Once a Webmaster gets a list of real e-mail addresses, he can sell it to others or even send bulk mails from his Web server.

Though it is not only discourteous but also unlawful to send unsolicited e-mails yet often stakes are too high and competition is cutthroat. It also puts extra load on the Internet traffic. Nowadays, we have spam-cops to stop such Webbies from filling your mailboxes with junk. Under certain circumstances such enforcement agencies even have the authority to put an end to your Web-stuff if you ignore their warnings.

Researches have proved time and again that chatters and advertisers usually rush to the chat services with highest number of persons. Therefore upcoming chat services can make their empty rooms look full with ‘virtual’ persons using sophisticated programming! Sometimes we may note some ‘persons’ seem to be online but do not respond. Take a step further, and you may come across a shrewd Webmaster who can even make these cyber nothings ‘talk’.

Here details of actual persons come handy and the server may reply choosing from a huge pre-programmed set of sentences that will be intelligent enough to make you feel you are talking to a human. This way a group of two or three persons can make a room seemingly full with hundreds of persons chatting normally. A virtual person is created in the chat room using details stolen or purchased from a database.

In one case Dr B. Singh, a dentist by profession, who was travelling in a bus from Amritsar, was shocked when she overheard two guys sitting in front to her. Those absolute strangers seemed two know all her details. One guy was bragging how a certain dentist B. Singh chats with him on a popular Web site almost daily. He reeled off her personal details like phone number and address to impress the other fellow. Dr B. Singh was simply out-witted, as she had never visited a chat-room throughout her life. However, she too had made the usual neophyte’s mistake of giving her accurate address and phone number while making her e-mail ID.

Things became clearer after a few days when the dentist received her first unsolicited message from a lady who again bombarded her with details and offered to help her in every sphere of life for a certain amount of money. As her e-mail address will pass to other marketers, the number of junk mails would continue to grow. Ultimately she would have to make another e-mail ID, but it would be impossible to erase her previous details from the vast jungle that the Net is.

Fraud of another kind surfaced recently in New Delhi, when a Web site owner, who delivered gifts and flowers to families of the NRIs, received a suspicious looking order. Now, this site owner used to confirm all orders on the telephone as secret codes of credit cards were involved in his business. Thus, when the order placer could not be traced through the phone, he got suspicious. Using the help of his ISP, he was able to trace this order to a 17-year-old boy in Gurgaon.

This boy confessed to having hacked into several servers and stolen vital information that could transfer money. Had not the entrepreneur been careful, the credit card company would have transferred the money, leaving the real cardholder and the Web site owner fighting for the rest of their life. Later, the boy was let off with a promise never to visit the site again. He also handed over a long list of e-mail addresses, compensation more valuable than money!