Watch out: Online criminals are using a number of ploys to scam you. Photo: iStock
The widespread adoption of social networking and online technologies is fundamentally changing what you need to do to stay safe from threats on the internet.
A Nigerian money order scam might have previously used a shotgun approach, sending out thousands of letters or emails in a bid to trap a handful of victims. These days scammers painstakingly craft identities on online dating websites, gradually gaining the trust of desperate, lonely and more vulnerable individuals.
They also trawl through Facebook profiles in order to gather enough information to plead with users to "rescue them" from being stranded in believable destinations with "no money, no passport". A myriad of other ploys, from the grooming of children to the hijacking of computers to send spam or steal identities, are also used by online criminals.
Increasingly, authorities - used to issuing scam alerts - are realising that just telling people to be more careful is not enough. They are now coordinating efforts to teach kids and adults the life skills to deal with dangerous situations in all corners of their lives - online and off.
The Western Australia Police, Queensland Police and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia have joined the thinkuknow.org.au cyber security awareness campaign started by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft.
Detective sergeant James Braithwaite, team leader of the cyber crime prevention unit, said the new partners, together with the Northern Territory Police and security firm Datacom, would be able to promote a unified message to a much wider audience.
The five-year old campaign will now focus on equipping people with the skills to make the right decisions and judgments in any context - analogue or digital.
"One of the main triggers for starting the program was as a child protection initiative, as we worringly saw kids being groomed online, but the campaign has expanded to encompass the full gamut of IT issues," Braithwaite said.
"That's a natural progression. We're certainly seeing the migration of all crime types on online activity, but in most instances the crime types we're seeing aren't different from the crime types that have always existed: it's just a new delivery mechanism.
The efforts also extend to educating the educators. "The challenge for us is to continue to keep our workforce educated and ensure they have the skillset to investigate these issues.''
While Braithwaite believed that cyber safety has come a long way over the past decade, others believe it's difficult to quantify this success.
Nigel Phair, director at the University of Canberra's Centre for Internet Safety, believes holding the occasional awareness day or week is a "piecemeal" approach. He proposes a census of online behaviour and experience before a safety priorities can be identified.
"I don't think behaviours have changed with internet safety as people are still out there falling for scams," Phair said. "We have various safety awareness days and weeks throughout the year but how is that changing the way people behave online? Are they less likely to put personal details into some websites or social media?
"I propose we do a baseline study on user behaviour across demographics of Australia and ask whether they had a good or bad user experience? If they had a problem, who did they tell? Then we can start putting resources into whether having these awareness weeks are actually telling people what they need to be told."
Tuesday is the 11th annual Safer Internet Day in more than 90 countries.