With the holidays approaching, Americans, both young and old are increasing their time online and looking for good shopping deals and companionship.
But those sales and chat rooms could come at a price. Unlike many other types of illegal activity; the internet allows thieves to remain anonymous and authorities say that's especially dangerous because web users are already way too trusting when dealing with others online.
Steven Zink is the Vice-President of Information Technology at the University of Nevada. Several agencies including the Reno Police Department and FBI have been relying on Zink's knowledge of the web to help them solve online crimes. He says criminals are learning new ways to deceive the public starting with spoofing websites.
"You pull it up on the web and it looks exactly like the bank," says Zink. "It asks you to type in your password and it's captured."
And soon the password and your credit card are used over and over again, sometimes without you even knowing.
"Sometimes you don't realize the victim for years," says Detective Greg Blair, who's spent the last 19 years in the financial crimes unit at the Reno Police Department. "You start looking through and realize someone assumed your identity and it takes years to clean it up."
Financial crimes are just a part of the illegal activity that takes place online each day. Police say crimes are increasing in cyberspace because many fail to realize just how dangerous the internet can be.
"We tell our kids don't talk to strangers," says Gene Schriber, a 21-year veteran of the Sparks Police Department. "Then we bring in a piece of equipment that has millions of strangers on it. Parents need to learn it's a great tool, but it can also be very dangerous."
Northern Nevada has certainly seen its share of internet crime cases over the years. Earlier this month, police arrested 32-year-old Jason Hunter on suspicion of using the internet to lure two teenage boys into his Reno home. Hunter posed as a 20-year-old woman on "Craigslist" a common method for many sex offenders.
"These people are very intelligent," says Schriber. "They know how to make a kid feel unwanted or unloved at home."
A recent study provided by Sparks police shows one in five kidnappings are orchestrated through the internet. And that number could be even higher, considering these types of crimes are grossly under-reported.
Schriber says one reason for that is parents are too worried about invading their child's privacy. But a little supervision can mean the difference between saving your kid or losing them to a complete stranger.
"The privacy thing only goes so far," says Schriber. "In the long run, you could be saving and their life."