Guest Author - Debbie Jacobsen
Hundreds of thousands of internet-based scams and fraudulent schemes exist online. Many are pretty obvious and easy to avoid, but many are very sophisticated and hard to spot. New internet users are especially prone to falling victim to internet scams. The key to staying safe is learning how to recognize a scam when you see one.
Following are some examples of common frauds, and internet scams:
E-Mail Phishing Scams
E-mail has proven to be a very popular tool for cyber-thieves, and they’ve gotten really good at faking letters from companies and financial institutions. The purpose of phishing scams is to get you to hand over your account credentials. Once you’ve done this, the crook will wipe out your bank account or charge your credit card to the limit in no time.
Phishing scammers use spam tactics to send out mass-emails to hundreds of thousands of email addresses at once. These emails appear to be from a bank, credit card company, store, or other business. The sending address is spoofed (forged) and the letter appears very professional. The email usually alerts you to a potential problem with your account, and urges you to “click the link” to log on and take care of the issue. The hyperlink takes you to a “copy” of an official website, where you must log on to access your account. Entering your credentials gets you nowhere, but the phishing scammer just got your user id and password.
Money Laundering Schemes
These scams come in the form of email, and are also commonly seen on job posting sites. Participating in this type of scam is illegal, and is a felony offense. Criminals either post “help wanted” ads on job sites or use spamming methods to email a “request for help” to as many addresses as they can. The letter is usually from a person in another country, who is doing business in the United States.
The scam artist claims that he is unable to process payments or transfer money out of the country because of complicated international laws. He is looking to “hire” people who are willing to use their bank account to accept direct deposits. The helper would then be required to transfer the money to the scammer’s bank account in exchange for a fee. Usually the money that is being transferred around is stolen. Participating in this type of scam actually turns the “victim” into a “criminal”.
Nigerian Money Fraud
This email scam has been around a long time, and people are still falling victim to it. You get an email from a Nigerian “government official” who is asking for help. He wants to transfer millions of dollars out of Africa, but needs help on the other side. In exchange for your efforts, you are promised a very large share in this fortune.
This scam starts out with requests for simple things like letterhead stationary. Soon the scammer asks for monetary help, in order to “bribe” government officials in preparation for the big money move. The amounts requested are small at first, but as the victim gets more involved he is conned out of more and more money. When the victim finally “catches on” and stops sending money, the scammer steals from him. He uses all the personal data and bank information he has gathered during the course of the scam to drain bank accounts or perform identity theft. According to the 419 Coalition Website, this scam has taken in billions of dollars since it’s inception in the 1980’s.
What to Do About Scams
The most important thing you can do about internet scams is to never respond to them. Although many of these scams may sound silly to you, a lot of people actually fall victim to them. If you do find yourself a victim of an internet scam, notify your local law enforcement and the FBI right away. You should also notify your bank, credit card companies and the Social Security Administration.
When you receive an email that might be a scam, check it out first before taking any action. There are several good websites that are dedicated to fighting internet fraud and scams. One site to check is Scamdex, which has an online database of every type of internet scam you can imagine.
For more information on internet fraud and scams, and what you can do about it, see the US Department of Justice website.