I'm a big fan of technology making life easier. Unfortunately, it also makes it easier for scam artists to target potential victims. For many, the relative newness of using email and Web access for banking, shopping and paying bills leaves them vulnerable to crooks looking to steal personal information for financial gain. Trust your instincts and arm yourself with knowledge to protect yourself from these common scams:
- "Your account has been compromised."
Whether you receive this notice via email, text or telephone, you're typically directed to a website that downloads malicious software onto your computer or requests that you provide personal information, which the scammer will use to steal from you.
Web links can be "masked" to look like your bank or credit card company's website, but clicking it takes you to a completely different site. To thwart this, hover your cursor over the link to see the actual address you'll be directed to.
Stick to this simple rule: Never click on a link in an email or reply to an unsolicited message with personal information. Call the company or go directly to its website by typing the address into the browser bar yourself.
- "Click here for your chance to win!"
Now that so many of us frequent Facebook, it's no surprise scam artists have started targeting our social networking activities. Common bait is the posting on a friend's page with these enticing words: "I just signed up to win an iPad 2. Click here for your chance to win!" Click the link and you'll be prompted to allow access to your Facebook account and personal information before being "entered into the contest." The result? You end up with lots of spam and your personal data compromised or sold.
Pinterest, a hugely popular "shareable scrapbook" linked to Facebook, allows people to "pin" pictures to their boards that automatically link to outside websites. Beware of those encouraging you to "re-pin" for a reward, often a gift certificate to your favorite store. Provide your information to claim the nonexistent prize and, as with the iPad contest example, you expose yourself to data mining.
- "Oops, I overpaid you."
Many buyers and sellers already know not to enter into an online transaction that requires an advance fee, or send a high-dollar item to a potential buyer without payment in escrow. One sneakier trick is the "overpayment" scam. A buyer makes a strong offer, and then sends you a check for more than the price you agreed upon. "Oops, do you mind wiring me the difference?" You wire the cash, his check bounces, and he disappears with your money.
- "You're pre-approved."
Then there's the pre-approved credit card offer that requires a "small transaction fee" to process your application. You send money and never hear from the company again. Bottom line: Don't provide information or payment in response to any unsolicited email, pop-up ad, Web contact or phone call.
- "Hi, this is Microsoft."
A scam that takes advantage of concerns about viruses and spyware is becoming more common. You get a phone call out of the blue. The caller says she's from Microsoft and an infection has been detected on your system. She can remove the virus if you'll give her remote access to your PC and pay a small fee. While most PC users would know better than to click a pop-up ad with a similar message, the telemarketer can be quite convincing.
For the record, Microsoft will never contact you to say there's a problem with your PC. The same goes for Dell, HP, Norton, etc. Don't trust anyone who tells you they've discovered a problem with your PC, sight unseen, and then asks you to pay for repair. Hang up and, if you think there might be a legitimate problem, call your computer service company. And contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
For more on fighting Internet fraud, see the federal government's list of resources at: