It is 25 years since a young British scientist called Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and famously gave it to the world for free. From the time it docked, the Web has unlocked infinite stores of information and delivered it to cyber explorers with the tap of a fingertip.
But while the door to collective knowledge is now open for anyone to walk through, the internet’s ability to expose has also pulled the blinds up on people’s privacy.
Into the cloud
Nowhere has this intrusion been more entertainingly scripted than in the soon-to-be released Hollywood movie Sex Tape. In it, actor Cameron Diaz’s horror is perfectly captured at the moment she discovers that the recording of a bedroom romp with her husband has inadvertently escaped into “the cloud” and thereby acquired an audience.
“The cloud” is that destination-less ether where digital information is cost-effectively stored by computer networks.
On the upside, the easy sharing, retrieval and packaging of this information has led to a civilisation-changing advance for humans.
Web-based solutions now touch almost every area of our existence, mostly improving the quality of life for people all over the world.
Whether it’s to enable a faraway surgeon to perform delicate operations using virtual technology or to instantly locate and buy rare paraphernalia, the internet has rapidly brought what were once science-fiction concepts within reach of everyday society.
The digital age can make us all “experts” on everything. It is easy to watch online tutorials to learn new skills or acquire knowledge efficiently without having to spend time or money on traditional education, thanks to sites such as Wikipedia.
Thrifty users chase ways of saving money through shortcuts promoted by electronic traders. Unfortunately, this can expose customers to cyber-fraud and theft or, in a worst-case scenario, tragic consequences.
Such was the fate of a Korean student found murdered in Brisbane last year, shortly after leaving to meet a currency trader. Police were told the student had arranged to swap $15,000 in cash for the Korean currency, using the cut-price services of a dubious dealer he found online.
Beware of scammers
Thankfully, the more common predicament facing investors who heed unscrupulous online advice is not fatal, but costly nonetheless.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) receives far too many calls each year from people who have been unwittingly fleeced by get-rich-quick-schemes and investment scams.
A 2006 study by Carnegie Mellon University on how internet fraudsters build underground economies estimated that globally, potential losses from credit card fraud and financial account theft totalled $93 million. The Pittsburgh-based researchers said this constituted a $427.50 hit for every credit card ever issued.
A list of unlicensed finance companies and schemes, fake regulators and exchanges can be found on ASIC’s website.
The personal touch
While there are reliable information tools on the net comparing financial products from reputable organisations, and others that educate investors about managing their money with lists of useful tips, they don’t replace a tailored financial plan.
A properly constructed financial plan is a living, breathing document. It must be adaptable to changes in your circumstances, and at its core identify your personal financial needs providing you with a roadmap to achieve your short, medium and long term goals. Reaching all of your goals require an ongoing partnership between adviser and client.
In an age where the mere click of a button will secure a loan or an insurance policy, establish a bank account or allow the sell-off of a portfolio of assets, it is worth remembering that cyber transactions lack the experience that human intervention can deliver.