An Internet safety education campaign will point out scams and other online dangers with an initial target audience of children and seniors.
The new Digital Citizens campaign, launched Thursday, will also strive to shed light on the online sale of counterfeit goods, including prescription drugs, and on pirated Web content, said Tom Galvin, executive director of the new group. Digital Citizens will investigate online scams by showing how people can get fooled -- for example, one of the first projects will be to purchase counterfeit drugs from online pharmacies, he said.
Digital Citizens will also attempt to demonstrate the ties of counterfeit products and scams to criminal groups, he said. "There are large criminal enterprises out there," Galvin said. "What we see is an online Mafia that is spreading out into numerous illegal activities because they see they can make a profit."
One recent phenomenon the group will highlight is conference scams, where criminals set fake conference events on issues such as global warming and invite people to attend after paying conference or hotel fees, said Garth Bruen, president of spam-fighting service Knujon and a member of Digital Citizens.
Internet users have to make an "immense" effort to keep up with online scams, and one of the goals of the new group is to alert them to new dangers, he said.
The initial focus of Digital Citizens will be on education, but the group may get involved in Internet policy as well, Galvin said. The group hopes to put pressure on governments and Internet companies to take steps to protect Internet users, he said.
"We hope to motivate a greater awareness that leads to a safer Internet," Galvin added.
Several other groups "do good work" in targeting niches in Internet security, but a new group was needed to "point out specific victims and how they're getting victimized," he said. Digital Citizens also plans to "really demonstrate who the villains are," Galvin added.
It's important to educate children about online safety, said Teri Schroeder, founder and CEO of i-SAFE, a nonprofit focused on educating children and teens on safe Internet use. Many children and teens don't understand that their online activities have consequences years later, with some colleges looking at applicants' online presence, she said.
Among the members of Digital Citizens are members of the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Consumers League and RHD International, a health organization focused on eradicating rheumatic heart disease.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.