Bogus recruitment emails, 419 Nigerian scheme, work-at-home opportunities, fake lottery emails... the Internet is not only a storehouse of information and entertainment, it is also a dangerous realm, where you can get robbed. Along with defending your computer against viruses and ensuring your kids are safe online, you need to protect yourself from Internet scams, be they fraudulent online business schemes or identity thefts.
Protecting Yourself from Internet Scams
Step 1: Look for tell-tale signs in emails
The Internet can be a vast and infinite arena of knowledge. It can also be a great place to hide. For those seeking an anonymous mode of operation, the World Wide Web is an ideal location. From 40 year olds sneaking into kiddie and teen chat rooms to a scammer trying to pass off as your bank representative, the bottom line is that you should be vigilant. Look for tell-tale signs and be suspicious. An email can be fraudulent if:
- It is full of spelling mistakes and has poor grammar.
- It asks for sensitive personal or financial information like credit card numbers, passport details, etc.
- It has a lot of capital letters, dollar signs and exclamation marks - "MAKE $$$$ Quickly!!".
- No official website or formal phone number or address is listed.
- It has a "too-good-to-be true" scheme, "risk-free" plans or "get rich very quick" claims.
- There is insufficient information about the offer or scheme.
- The logo or symbol of the company looks fake or tampered with.
- If the email informs you of free gifts and lottery winnings, it will ask you for money to deliver the prize or gift.
- There are threats to perform an action, like "your account will be blocked", "your account will expire", "you will be terminated from the group".
- You are aggressively advised to subscribe or take part in the scheme immediately, else it will end and you will lose out on a great opportunity.
- Anonymous email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com are used.
Step 2: Use the Internet smartly
There's a way to handle or use things and there's the right way. If you use a knife incorrectly, it can hurt you but if used in the right way, it completes its purpose. The same can be said for the Internet. Yes, there are a lot of scammers and hackers and "bad guys" out there, waiting around the corner. But you can get scammed only if you let down your guard. How to prevent Internet scams, you ask? Use the Internet smartly, here are some ways:
- Do not perform sensitive data transactions and operations such as changing passwords, login information, accessing bank statements and online credit card transactions on public computers, like those in cyber cafes and libraries.
- Set up spam filters in your email account and if possible, try to install an Internet security program along with an anti-virus software on your computer. Keep updating such software, to make sure it is up-to-date with the latest scamming practices.
- If an email reads like spam and your gut feeling tells you it is spam, listen to your instincts and delete it from your inbox. Do not download any attached files or reply to the email. Do not click on any links in the email, even to unsubscribe from the mailing list. Just delete it.
- Never ever enter personal information or any confidential data into pop-ups and small windows. Check links out by typing the address directly in your browser's address bar. Avoid clicking on links in emails.
- Enabling the 'auto-complete feature' on your browser will help you with passwords and login details but if you lend your machine to someone else, remember to delete cookies and turn off the feature.
- Do not send login details of any account, be it email or bank, in emails to friends, co-workers or family. Your email account could get hacked and such information will land up in the wrong hands. Sensitive data such as credit card or social security number or any such information shouldn't be sent by email either.
- Always take a printout or a screenshot of any bill or transaction carried out online. Check your bank statements or account balance immediately, to see if the transaction has been reflected and if so, is it the right amount. If not a printout, you should be able to save the transaction's record and access it on logging in at a later date.
- The address bar in your browser shows a website's URL as: http://website address. When financial transactions are being carried out or you are trying to access a secure site (like email), the URL should change to https://. This indicates a secure website address, i.e., no one else can access the page, as long as you are logged in. Some secure sites have a different icon near the URL, either a key or a closed padlock.
- Avoid participating in chain letters and pyramid email schemes ("send $10 to 10 people and you will receive a surprise gift for each mail sent"). They always have some hidden trick or scam hidden in their text or at the least, will end up wasting your time.
- Make sure you know who you are dealing with. If there is a phone number mentioned, call it up. Check local listings to see if that company exists at that number. Visit its official site to see if it is legitimate.
- Do not base your financial transactions on advice received in chat rooms and online discussions or tips. If you are investing in a business venture, research, investigate and check out the agent and company. Do not pay any money in advance.
- Insist on face-to-face discussions or meeting the company's representative in an office. Check out the company's legitimacy and see if there are any complaints or pending cases against it. You can use the Better Business Bureau site to carry out an online search.