Internet scams heat up during holidays
Source: Business News
By DEBORAH ADAMSON
Date: December 21, 2003
Your holiday cheer could turn into holiday blues if you don't sidestep the scams that proliferate at this time of the year.
Internet deals more virtual than real, e-mail solicitations or calls with the intent to steal personal information, phony charities preying on your generosity or guilt - all are designed to take advantage of the busy season to part you from your money.
"If people are stressed and they want to buy something, they might not do their homework compared to other times," said Steve Levins, state consumer protector at the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
Most vulnerable are the less educated, poor speakers of English who might not look askance at a badly worded e-mail offer, Internet newcomers, kids and seniors, said Audri Lanford, founder of Internet ScamBusters, a public service Web site based in Boone, N.C.
This year, the number of complaints about online fraud have risen by 40 percent from 2002, to more than 106,000, according to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint venture of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center.
Here are some of the most common holiday scams, their latest variations and how to protect yourself:
Spam e-mail deal
How it works: An e-mail offers 50 percent off a computer system. You've never heard of the company, but you're intrigued. You click on the link and see a normal-looking Web site. You enter your credit card information to buy the product. The computer never arrives - but you discover weeks later that your credit card has been charged without authorization.
Latest variation: Scamsters have started using the names of well-known retailers such as Best Buy, eBay and Bank of America to lull you into a false sense of security, Lanford said. When you click on the link they provide, it takes you to a fake Web site that mimics that of a major retailer.
Scam prevention: Major retailers won't ask for your Social Security number for purchases, so be skeptical of anyone that asks for it. Also, if you get an e-mail purportedly from a well-known store, find the Web site on your own to check if the promotion is real.
How it works: Your personal information - name, birth date, Social Security number, other data - is stolen online. Using your name, scamsters go on a shopping spree, withdraw money from your bank and generally wreak havoc. It takes an average of 600 hours to fix the damage done to your credit, according to the FTC.
Latest variation: Scamsters send e-mail pretending to be from your bank or a major retailer. The message says a fraud has been detected and your account has been frozen. To fix it, the e-mail instructs you to click on a link and enter your personal information, perhaps as "verification."
Scam prevention: To help minimize the risk, shop at secure Web sites, which begin with "https://" instead of the usual "http://". Check for third-party support of the site, such as verification by Verisign, eTrust, Visa and others.
Online auction fraud
How it works: After winning a bid for an item online, the seller never ships the product and disappears. The goods tend to be high-priced items, such as computers.
Latest variation: Sometimes scamsters set up a fake online escrow company to give a false sense of security. For a fee, you send your money to them and the seller ships the goods to you. Once you receive the product, the online escrow firm sends your money to the seller. Some scamsters set up fake escrow companies and steer buyers there.
Scam prevention: Buy only from reputable companies approved by eBay and other major auction sites. Check out the company's Web site. If there's no contact information or address, be wary.
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