The Internet has afforded many conveniences — banking, shopping, dating and getting the latest news — all from home.

But there’s a darker side to Internet use: Increased risk of becoming a victim of fraud. Internet fraud comes in many forms, from phishing, to click fraud, to spam, to online marketing, to contests and surveys. The list goes on.

In the past few years, the RCMP, which operates Phonebusters, Canada’s online crime-fighting ag­ency, has seen an alarming rise in the number of Internet-based scams in Canada.

Because the Internet is a decentralized network of computers with no controlling company or government, it’s all the harder for police to crack down on cyber-criminals. In addition, many laws don’t yet reflect technological advances, making it difficult to lay charges.

Tim Richardson, an e-commerce professor at Seneca College, says much of the online fraud is building towards identity theft, which is why it’s imperative to protect sensitive information.
Here, some ways to guard against Internet fraud:

• Use a different user ID and password combination for different accounts.

• Make the passwords more complicated than just letters and numbers, and change them regulary.

• Protect your computer with anti-virus software, spyware filters, email filters and firewall programs.

• Before entering personal information on a website, look for the “lock” icon in your browser. A closed lock or padlock indicates that you are on a secure website.

• Before entering data on any website, read their unique privacy and security policies before entering any personal information.

• If you suspect any fraudulent activity online, report it to the police.

• Shop only from reputable online stores and make sure their websites use encryption.