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Most of us are familiar with the internet to some degree. However, more
businesses are providing products and services online and cyber-criminals are
using this electronic medium to prey on victims.
1) Do not reply to junk email asking to be removed. Frequently, replying to the message will alert the mailer that the address they have targeted is "active". Replying to these emails may often add you to more junk email lists. Your best action should be to simply delete the message, or report the junk message to your internet service provider (if your provider allows this). If you do belong to a mailing list, visiting the originating web site will generally provide instructions for removing yourself from their mailings.
2) Do not give out any personal information via email. Companies understand the importance of customer's security. No reputable company should ask for any personal information (including passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc.) via email. If you are still unsure of the email, call the company by telephone and verify their email.
3) Phishing is the buzz word of recent times. It is an attempt to gain your personal identification through a disguised email appearing to originate from a legitimate business. A scammer will send email claiming to be a company (common companies used are banking/credit card companies, auction and payment sites). The email reports that something is wrong with your account -- whether it's your credit card expiring, database errors, security problems, "suspicious activity" etc. -- and they need you to logon to the account to supply and verify the information or the account will become disabled (or some other negative result). Although the emails do vary, they attempt to lure you to enter your information via a link they provide. These scammers will cleverly disguise their email to look as though it really came from the company and provide you with a link that appears to go to the company.
When you click on the link and provide your information, you are not connecting to the site you thought you were connecting to. In fact, you are connecting to the scammers disguised web site and providing the scammer with the information they need to use your information. With this information, they can make fraudulent charges, steal your money, and your identity. Some of these emails look extremely authentic, as do their web sites, which is why so many people fall for this type of scam.
Although a reputable company might inform you via email to potential account problems, most will alert you by phone. You can verify the email with a simple phone call to the company. For extra security, do not use any phone numbers or contact information used in the email --- they may be bogus. Use only verified numbers that you have used in the past, or ones found on the back of the credit card or billing statement. Reputable companies also provide security alerts on their web sites. Visit the company's website yourself by typing in their address in your browser and not by clicking a link in email (that too can be forged). Scammers can make the emails appear as if they are coming from the real company, so don't assume that a message from "firstname.lastname@example.org" is your bank.
4) Don't fall for making-money schemes. The old phrase, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" should stick with you as you surf the web. The internet is exciting -- there are videos, music, flashing words and a lot of information to keep us entertained. However, as much as we'd love to be the next millionaire by paying a processing fee, or find out that a deceased relative had hidden accounts payable to us, they simply aren't true. Scammers aren't using new tricks, in fact, they are using old tricks because they are still effective. If you are contacted by someone promising you money but requiring you to put up your own money (for any reason), it is most likely a scam. Scammers will try anything and promise you anything as long as you provide them money or your personal information. If you follow their instructions, the only thing you are most likely to get is your identity stolen and ripped off. As always, any money making or business venture should be thoroughly researched.
5) Don't give out your credit card to anyone online, unless you know who you are giving it to, and have verified that they are who they report themselves to be. Many banking companies have the ability to offer "disposable" credit card numbers. These card numbers are created by the customer for use online. The customer will generate a "one-time use" card for a specific amount of money, and/or a certain expiration period. A one-time use number is generated, which is linked to the customer's account. The customer can then provide this generated card number knowing that it can only be used once by the merchant they gave the number to. As this number will be linked to your real account for the purchase, you don't have to give out your real credit card number. Not all banking institutions offer this service, so check with your company to see if they offer it.
6) Always check your bank and credit card statements every month for unauthorized charges or activity. If there are unauthorized charges, report them to your bank immediately. Also make sure you are receiving your bank statements. A scammer may use your bank statement to help them make fraudulent charges or steal your identity.
7) Your credit report is managed by three separate reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and may be significantly different. Check your credit reports regularly and report any discrepancies or fraudulent entries immediately.
8) Don't throw away credit card statements, ATM receipts, old checks, telephone or utility bills, or anything which may be used to steal your identity (including credit card offers mailed to you) without first shredding them. For added security, shred the items with a cross-cutting shredder. These shredders will cut your documents into small cubes rather than long strips (which can be put back together). There are even shredders that allow you to shred compact discs (useful if you have stored any personal information on them).
9) If you are unfamiliar with a company, check them out! Ask your friends and co-workers about their experiences with the company, look online for reviews, or companies with reputable consumer protection affiliation (and verify this affiliation). Although not all bad businesses are able to be identified, it's a good start. Also review the companies policies for product exchanges and refunds BEFORE doing business with a company. It can save huge headaches later.
10) Be sure to research items purchased at auction sites before you promise to buy. Many items never arrive, or aren't what they are advertised to be. Most auction sites have a rating system in place, and you should check out a sellers rating (reputation) before bidding. Check with the auction site's rules and regulations regarding fraud and disputes before agreeing to buy or sell on the site.
11) Protect your own computer: Use updated virus and spy ware scanning software and scan regularly. Use a firewall and also make sure your operating system has the latest updates. Refer to your computer's manual or website for more information. Password protect important files and folders.
12) Don't use the same passwords for every web site. You should use different passwords for each site. Also, do not use names of family members, pets, birth dates, street names, or other easily guessable words as passwords. For best protection, your passwords should contain both letters (upper and lower case characters) and numbers, and if possible, symbols. Always change default passwords when installing new hardware or software.
Always remember ... if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The internet can be an exciting place when used safely and responsibly, but just like the "off-line" world, there are many scammers that are waiting for their next victim. Although nothing is effective 100% of the time, the above tips should give you a basic knowledge and understanding of what to watch out for while you are surfing the internet.
If you feel as though you have been a victim of a crime, please contact your local police department immediately.
For more information on fraud scams and schemes, visit the following resources: (links will open in a new window)