10 Most Common Types of Internet Scams

Posted August 30, 2011 in Internet Law by

Just when you think you’re hip to all of the internet scams, a new one comes along.

Each year the Internet Crime Complaint Center compiles a report on the most common internet crimes. Some of the scams included in their 2010 Internet Crime Report surprised me.

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Here’s their list of the top 10 internet crimes of 2010. Are you aware of each of these crimes, and alert to ensure you’re not a victim?

  1. Non-delivery of merchandise or non-payment for items sold: This scam takes a lot of forms, but it’s pretty easy to avoid becoming a victim. If buying merchandise online, use well-known merchants with a good reputation. And if you’re selling items, use escrow services and track any shipments you send to ensure they’re delivered.
  2. FBI-related scams: Almost daily I receive emails from scammers posing as the FBI and claiming to have money that’s been recovered on my behalf. Just a hint: If the FBI has money that’s yours, it probably won’t send you an email—and FBI agents working on official business don’t use Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail accounts.
  3. Identity theft: I’ve recently heard stories about several friends whose email accounts have been hijacked. The hijackers then contacted people in their address book, claiming to have been mugged while on vacation overseas. Could you please wire money to me, the scammer asked? Be vigilant about your email password and be skeptical if you receive email or IM requests from friends asking for money. Follow up with them offline to confirm the request.
  4. Computer crimes: This is a catch-all category that includes crimes targeting your computer or computer network, or crimes that attempt to use your computer or network to perpetrate other crimes. Take steps to secure your hardware, include password protection, firewalls and installation of spyware, anti-malware, anti-scamware and anti-virus software. If you’re not comfortable installing these, ask a trusted friend or technology professional to safeguard your computers.
  5. Miscellaneous fraud: These crimes include work-at-home scams, fake contests and sweepstakes, and crimes intended to defraud people.
  6. Advance fee fraud: There are a number of variations on advance fee fraud, but they all ask people to pay an upfront fee to receive something of value. Once the fee is paid, the fraudster disappears, leaving you with a lighter wallet but nothing to show for it.
  7. Spam: Those bulk, unsolicited emails that fill up your in-box aren’t just annoying. Many are fraudulent, trying to direct you to overpriced or useless merchandise, hijack your computer or steal your personal information. The best advice: Don’t click on links from unknown senders, and beware if someone you know sends you a suspicious email. (A friend recently had his email account hijacked and used to spam his address book. I thought it strange that he was sending me—a platonic female friend—a link to a Viagra site.)
  8. Auction fraud: There are any number of crimes being committed on auction sites, even the most legitimate. If you’re a seller, beware of people who want to overpay for items, send you more money than the cost of the item then ask for a refund, or ask you to ship items to Africa even though the purchaser is a US user. As a buyer, only purchase from sellers with few or no negative complaints. Don’t buy from sellers who typically sell inexpensive items, but suddenly start selling high-priced items. Think twice before buying from sellers who insist on checks, wire transfers or payment services other than PayPal.
  9. Credit card fraud: This is another category that can include a variety of scams. It can include overcharging you for items you legitimately purchased as well as unauthorized credit card charges. Remember that as a consumer, you have more legal protections when using a credit card than a debit card. Also, review your credit card statements each month to ensure that they’re accurate, and contact your credit card issuer immediately if you think you’ve been overcharged or if an unauthorized charge appears on your statement.
  10. Overpayment fraud: Has someone purchased something from you online, then tried to overpay, suggesting you simply refund them the difference? In my case, I sold a computer on eBay. The buyer wanted me to ship it out of the country and sent me a generous payment via PayPal, asking me to simply refund the difference after I knew the actual shipping cost. The only hitch: The PayPal payment notification was a fake and the eBay account was hijacked. If I’d fallen for the scam, I would have lost my computer and handed cash to the criminal in the process. Alarm bells should immediately go off any time someone overpays you—and don’t assume you’re in the clear just because your bank cashed the check. They can still come after you to recoup the money once they discover it’s a bogus check.

Tips to Avoid Being Scammed

So perhaps you’re already familiar with all of these scams—good for you! But realize that every day brings a new scam. How can you stay safe?

  • Don’t be greedy. If a stranger contacts you offering money, think twice.
  • Be skeptical. If you get an email from a friend or stranger that strikes you as odd, ask some questions.
  • Educate yourself. Learn the basics of computer safety and online security. Can you tell a secure website from an unsecure one? Do you know what Verisign is? The more you know, the safer you’ll be.
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