Use caution in Internet transactions
Date: January 25, 2004
The Internet has opened up a whole new world for computer users. Not only do they have the ability to communicate instantly throughout the world, but they can gather information and conduct business transactions with a few quick clicks of the keyboard or mouse.
But it also is a world where identities are easily hidden and one can fall victim to extremely sophisticated con artists. Caution is required, especially when it comes to giving out personal information about Social Security numbers, credit cards, bank accounts and medical data.
Of all the consumer complaints investigated by the Federal Trade Commission last year, more than half - 55 percent - were related to Internet fraud. Identity theft was the most common complaint, and probably is the most damaging. If, for example, the wrong person gets ahold of your Social Security number or credit card number, within minutes they can do serious damage to your financial and credit records that you might not become aware of for weeks.
Some Internet scams are obvious: You receive an e-mail from someone you've never heard in some far-off land who wants to share millions of dollars with you - if you only agree to send them a bank account number or money first. Most of us would immediately delete such a message, but there are people who have lost thousands of dollars in the hopes of reaping millions.
Other scams are not as easy to spot, and they are becoming more clever all the time. For example, E-mails that appear to be from companies with which you do business might request information in order to "update" records. If you receive such a request that seems highly questionable, call the company or institution involved and verify that they need specific information and ask why. If they appear baffled by your call, inform them of the e-mail you received. They will be just as interested as you in stopping such schemes perpetrated under their name.
Internet scams have two huge advantages over run-of-the-mill con artists: Anonymity and volume. It is easy to be anyone you want to be on the Internet, if people are willing to believe you. And even the most outrageous scams, when sent out to millions of computer users, are likely to yield some type of return from a few people dumb enough to believe that they can get rich quickly and effortlessly.
If you think you are the victim of Internet fraud, it is important to report it to law enforcement or groups such as the Better Business Bureau. Even if you are embarrassed by your vulnerability, it is important that you help put a stop to such scams and ensure that others don't fall victim to them.
Safeguarding personal information is becoming both more important and more difficult. Don't let sweet-sounding offers tempt you to do anything you might regret.
As P.T. Barnum said, a sucker is born every minute - and the Internet makes it much easier to find them. Make sure you are not among them.
^macro[showdigestcomments;^uri;Use caution in Internet transactions]