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Internet Security 2: Beware the scams

Last week, we discussed several ways that a hacker can get at your system without your participation.

This week, we discuss how your own naivete will allow those hackers to gain access to your system and identity. Again, you ignore these warnings at your own peril.

The Auction Scam: Searching an auction site, you see the latest, hottest game system for an incredibly low price; after winning the auction, you send in your payment and await the delivery of your prize — which never arrives. Or, what you get is a box full of worthless components, definitely not what you paid for.

Considering that 75 percent of complaints registered with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (formerly the Internet Fraud Complaint Center) involve auction fraud, it’s the scam to watch — and worry about.

The best protection is to use common sense; who would sell a $200 game system for $20? Furthermore, carefully examine the seller (especially someone auctioning high-ticket items). If the seller has hundreds or thousands of members providing feedback, most giving a positive rating, you’re probably dealing with someone legit. Conversely, a seller with no previous feedback (or just a handful of recent comments), you’re most likely seeing someone trying to make a quick buck — and rip you off.

The Order Confirmation Scam: An e-mail arrives in your inbox asking you to confirm your order, usually for something you don’t remember buying. The e-mail includes a link for you to click to cancel the order, taking you to a site where you’re asked to confirm your name, address and credit card information. Once you’ve done that, you’ve provided thieves with all they need to use your credit card for their own shopping spree.

If you’re curious about the order, you can call the company that supposedly received the order to see if an order was indeed placed with them. Likewise, you can call your credit card company to check if some random charge was made. But do not, by any means, provide your personal information to anyone you’re not 100 percent convinced is your credit card company or your bank.

The Phishing Scam: Again, an e-mail arrives in your inbox, this time from your bank (or credit card company or something similar), saying that if your account information is not updated within the next 48 hours, your account will be closed. Or, the e-mail might say that you have been the victim of identity theft and information confirmation is required to stop the alleged identity theft. A link is provided in the e-mail, directing you to a page where you are to enter in your information — a page looking exactly like your account page.

Unfortunately, the page is a clever copy created to capture your information. Once you’ve provided your information, your bank account information, credit card numbers (even driver’s license numbers and social security numbers) are in the hands of thieves who will empty your bank account (at the least) or steal your identity and trash your hard-earned credit.

What is important to remember is that your bank or credit card company will never — ever — solicit you for your personal account information (you may be asked to provide some information, for verification purposes, if you call them). At no time will they contact you, asking for that information.

The “Congratulations, you’ve won …” Scam: You’re contacted (again, via e-mail) and informed that you’ve won a laptop computer, an iPod, a game system or some other pricey gadget and all you need to do is enter your debit/credit card number and pin to pay shipping and handling. Of course, the merchandise never arrives but what does happen is that, some time down the line, mysterious charges begin showing up on your debit/credit card account.

The thing is, you have to ask, “When did I sign up for this contest?” More than that, you need to ask, “If I won it, why do I need to pay shipping and handling?”

By law, you are never required to pay shipping and handling charges on something you’ve won; it’s included in the prize (that’s the law, plain and simple).

Any random e-mail telling you that you’ve won anything is usually a rip off.

The Gift Card Scam: All you have to do is fill out a survey (best soft drink, best shoes, whatever) and you’re guaranteed a $500 gift card to Wal-Mart or a $50 gift card to Chili’s or some other nonsense. Just for answering a survey!

The next thing you know, you’re directed to sign up for several “free” services that ask for your credit card or debit card number. If you haven’t seen the pattern here, already, you deserve to get ripped off. Nonetheless, we’ll tell you that you should reject any gift card offers — or any solicitations for answering surveys. At most, a survey will offer you $5 to answer their questions and will not ask for any personal information other than a mailing address.

The Foreign Country Lottery Scam: You get an e-mail telling you that some long-lost cousin included you as a co-winner in the Spanish (German, Tahitian, etc.) lottery and all you need to do to claim your winnings is send some money (and your bank account number) to secure delivery of your winnings.

Uh-huh. And this so-called long-lost cousin found you how? And why did they include you in the winnings? And why were they playing the lottery in Spain?

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people are hungry for free money. First of all, it’s illegal to collect money on a foreign lottery (really). Secondly, there’s no legitimate reason to secure funds for due winnings (irony — see the movie “The Spanish Prisoner,” well worth your education). Finally, you need to ask yourself, “Who is this long-lost cousin?”

The Nigerian (or “419”) Scam: This is the most pathetic scam out there (made more so that so many people continue to get hooked), another “something for nothing” scam with exponential results: the money is big and the results have been, at times, tragic.

There are several variations on this scam but the common denominator is that someone has died or that funds have been misplaced and you’re an agent (somehow) in securing the fortune languishing in some foreign bank. Millions are awaiting you if you only follow a few simple directions — including sending money to secure the millions due to you.

Really, the millions languishing in a bank account from a Shell Oil mistake or from some dead prince just don’t exist. Worse, several Americans who have chased down the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve invested in this scam by travelling to Nigeria have ended up dead. Not only is this an expensive scam it is, unfortunately, a fatal one.

If there are other scams out there, I’d love to hear about them. My e-mail address is at the end of this article and you’re welcome to contact me. Furthermore, if you’re unsure about anything you’ve received on the Internet, by all means, I’m here to offer you advice.

Next week, we’ll offer you advice on what you can do to secure your system, prevent intrusions into your system and protect your identity.