Spotting the Scam: Internet Fraud

April 28, 2011

While email and internet scams generally fall into recognizable forms, they are constantly evolving as scammers attempt to trick you. The best way to protect yourself is to keep up with news of the latest scams so you’re never taken off guard.

See below for some of the most common types of internet fraud and helpful tips to avoid them. Keep in mind, the exact method of each scam will vary greatly.

• Phishing – These unsolicited emails request personal information and may threaten to close various accounts (bank, credit card, email, etc.) if you don’t update your personal information. Never send responses to unsolicited requests for personal information. Remember, legitimate businesses, including all banks, would never request personal information over an unsecure form of communication like email. A more recent variation of phishing is through social networks, such as Facebook. Facebook Connect is a useful tool that allows you to log into many websites automatically through Facebook. When logging into other sites with your Facebook information, make sure that the window that opens has a address. The window that pops up will not request your log in information if you are currently logged in to Facebook on that device.

• Lottery Scams – Emails claiming you’ve won a huge sum of money may appear real and include personalized details, but don’t be fooled – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. One variation of this scam is an email claiming the recipient has been part of a “random drawing” of users of a common software, such as Microsoft Word. Because the scammer uses common computer software to hook people in, the scam is especially effective. Remember, no legitimate business will ask for personal information over email.

• Nigerian Scams – A wealthy foreigner needs your help transferring money. In return, for a small “transfer fee”, they promise to share the riches. This scam comes in many varieties and was even prominent before email. Don’t fall for this one, as many still do. In 2010 alone, the Federal Trade Commission received 43,866 complaints of money lost to foreign money transfers.

• Typosquatting – This is a type of internet fraud where a domain name similar to the real domain name is registered. The name difference could be as slight as “.com” instead of “.org” or any misspelled variation of the web address. The imposter website may install computer viruses or invite you to enter personal information. Protect yourself by checking the website name after typing it, bookmarking commonly visited sites, and doing a search on sites like Google or Yahoo rather than guessing the domain name.

• Imposter Scams – The scammer will contact you, impersonating a close friend or relative in distress, and ask to be wired money. Scammers have more recently begun to hack Facebook accounts and send instant messages requesting money over the social networking site. As a general rule, if you receive financial requests over the internet, no matter who from, confirm the request in person or by phone.

• Charity Scams – Scammers pose as nonprofit organizations and attempt to solicit donations online and by phone. To avoid these scams, only give money to established organizations, and only when you initiate contact. If donating online, go to the organization’s official web page (make sure to confirm the web address!) and find its donation section.
• Internet Ticket Fraud – Be cautious when buying tickets online for events such as concerts and movies. Scammers set up sites that mirror official sites. When purchasing tickets from unofficial providers, you may receive counterfeit tickets or nothing at all. Worse, by providing your financial information, you are risking identity theft. Avoid buying tickets online unless you are using established websites such as Ticketmaster and Fandango.
The internet is a great tool for any number of activities. Just make sure to stay vigilant with your personal information. If you or a loved one has been a victim of any sort of fraud, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at