A large part of being an informed consumer involves knowing how to protect yourself from the unexpected, which can take many forms including internet criminals. Here’s what you should know about some of the most common internet crimes and ways you can protect yourself against attacks on your computer, your finances and, most importantly, your life.

Internet crimes can take all sorts of forms, and 2010 was definitely a record year according to the National White Collar Crime Center’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which was formed in 2000 to assist consumers with identifying internet crimes and filing complaints against them. The rate of complaints the IC3 has received has risen steadily over the more than ten years the agency has existed, and the growth of internet usage on smartphones, computers and other digital devices has just made it easier for cyber criminals to carry out their misconduct.

In light of all this, knowing how to identify online scams when you come across them is the best way to steer clear of cyber crime, especially has online criminals become more sophisticated in their techniques. Sony’s most recent bout with hackers just goes to show that even giant corporations can be taken down by unrelenting individuals.

Below are some of the newest forms of criminal activity to coalesce on the internet this year–just keep reading to find out more.

If You’re Not the President Then Delete That Bin Laden Email:

While much of the world is quite relieved that the Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden’s reign of terror over much of the western world has come to an end, a new form of terrorism is already taking form online. Yes, we know you may want to see those Bin Laden death photos, but before you open that email claiming to have images of the slain terrorist, it would be very wise to know that President Obama has already announced his administration won’t be releasing photos or videos of Bin Laden’s recent death.

That being said, unless you personally know the head of the CIA (or the head of any federal agency that was tasked with apprehending Bin Laden) then that email in your inbox claiming to have his death images is probably bogus. That fictitious email is more than likely an attempt by cyber hackers to implant malware into your hard drive, according to the Justice Department. Open that message, and the malware–short for malicious software–will not only infect your computer but also to your contact lists, possibly spreading to friends, family and others.  If successfully implanted, malware can be programmed to steal your personal information, which is what makes it so dangerous.

When Charitable Giving Becomes Uncharitable Taking:

This certainly isn’t the first time MyBankTracker.com has warned of the dangers of charity fraud, but it’s never a bad idea to revisit these crimes in light of the number of natural disasters we’ve already seen this year (think Japan and tornadoes that took over much of the southern United States). The federal government estimated that Americans gave more than $307.75 billion to their favorite charities in 2009.

If you do feel the urge to give to a charity, you should never respond to requests for money that come in the form of spam email, nor should you click on link from such emails. Always make donations to charities you are familiar with. Alternatively, if you’re unfamiliar with an organization that’s requested funds from you then do your homework and research the organization before donating. Most importantly, do not provide personal information of any kind before you’re 100% sure the organization in question is a legitimate one.

When Online Romance Turns to Online Disaster:

Online dating has become all the rage in recent years as more and more digitally fixated singles look for new ways to meet their dream matches. If you’re one of the countless individuals that actively online date then you definitely want to be on the lookout for scammers posing as your perfect 10. At first they’ll wine and dine you then, when you least expect it, they’ll regale you in stories of hard times and financial difficulties. In the end, they’ll not only have won your favor, they’ll also have possible one substantial amounts of your cash.

In other cases, cyber criminals claiming to be overseas will simply ask their faux loves to send funds via a money order, cashier’s check or wire transfer. Sometimes they’ll ask you to send the funds to an “associate” or reship packages. In all such cases, the victims can lose vast amounts of cash (let alone pride) and pay enormous amounts in bank fees and penalties as a result of this sort of fraud. Victims of online dating fraud are typically over the age of 40, divorced, widowed, elderly or disabled, but the IC3 warns that anyone can fall victim to these type of criminals.

Remember that protecting yourself from online criminals in 2011 may take more vigilance than ever, but it can still be done. For more information on how cyber criminals can attack or how to file a complaint, check out the IC3’s website.

Carolyn Okomo is a financial writer and the Tuesday columnist for MyBankTracker.com. You can follow her tweets @CarolynMBT.

Update: Please excuse the previous typo in the second headline, which now reads “If You’re Not the President Then Delete That Bin Laden Email.” Our apologies go out to those who were rightly offended by the unintentional use of the President Obama’s surname in the headline.

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  • Miss_lisa0709

    I was scammed by a man that I met on an online dating site. He got some money from me, and he had me remail stuff to him. The police came to my home and searched it. Luckily, I wasn’t charged. But it was financially devastating. And it was also emotionally heartbreaking. My car title was in hock, my cable was disconnected, my bank account was overdrawn, the police took my computer and my cell phone so I couldn’t call him or email him . I was alone in trouble with the law in my apartment without cable or a phone and no money. All I could do was cry for about a month. In the meantime, he’d moved on to another woman. And didn’t even remember my name or care about the huge sacrifices I’d made for him. I had my car refinanced, if i hadn’t, I would have lost my car. BEWARE OF THESE PEOPLE!!!!