Con-men have been around for thousands of years, separating unknowing or foolish people from their money for as long as people have been using it. Today however these conmen, scammers and sc*mbags have a much more potent weapon that they are using to separate honest, hard-working people from their hard earned dollars; the Internet.
Now, many of you reading this may be thinking to yourself “there is no way that I would ever fall for an Internet scam”. You may believe that only older people and idiots fall for them but, frankly, some of the scams online today are so slick that even the most savvy internet surfer can be taken for a bad ride. With that in mind, here are 5 Internet scams that you need to be aware of so that you don’t find yourself on the losing end of one of them with a surprised look on your face and a zero dollar amount in your bank account. Enjoy.
1. The “FBI – Illegal Download Fine’ Scam. This is one of the newer scams being used online and it can scare someone enough to cause them to make a foolish mistake. It starts when an Internet surfer mistakenly clicks on a website in the ‘nether regions’ of the Internet. (We won’t ask why you are there but we will caution you that it happens with illegal download sites and pornography sites more than any other kind.) Once a person clicks on this website a malicious program will take over their computer (its very powerful) and won’t allow them to do anything.
A page will then pop up that you cannot click out of and it will look very convincingly like it is from either the FBI or Interpol (the International version of the FBI). It will go into detail about how you have been ‘caught’ looking at either illegal pornography or have been illegally downloading music or other files and will tell you that, in order to get use of your computer back, you will need to pay a ‘fine’. It will then tell you that in order to pay his fine you need to go to a place where they sell money orders (Walgreens, 7-11, etc.), get one in a specific amount and then send it to them electronically. While the program that has taken control of your computer is certainly real and may be hard to purge, the rest is completely false. It preys on the fear that people have of being ‘caught’ illegally downloading content or their embarrassment of looking at internet porn. The best way to get rid of this file program is to reboot your computer in ‘safe mode’ and revert back to a prior saved hard-drive date before the event occurred. The best way to avoid it of course is to stick to webpages that are legitimate and, frankly, to avoid Internet porn and illegal download sites at all costs.
2. The ‘Grandchild in Trouble’ Scam. This is a particularly vile scam in that it preys on an elderly person’s love for their grandchildren. What happens is that they will get either an early morning or late night phone call (when they are sleepy) from someone who claims to be their ‘grandchild’ (they will, in many cases, even know the actual name of one of them). The ‘grandchild’ will then tell a sob story about how they are stranded somewhere and need money for either bus fare, bail or some other fine in order to ‘get back home’. Of course what they will tell the unknowing grandparent is that they shouldn’t tell anyone else because, if they do, they will get the grandchild ‘in trouble’.
This scam is happening all over the country as the population of the United States gets older and older. The best way to avoid it is to talk with your elderly parents and tell them to never send money to anyone for any reason until they’ve actually conferred with you to find out if the need, and the grandchild, is legitimate.
3. The “You’ve GOT to see this!” Scam. If you’ve ever heard the old adage “it’s like a train wreck; you don’t want to look but you can’t look away” you know why this scam works. We humans have an odd interest in jarring, disturbing or even tragic events. (Think 9/11 or the recent Boston Marathon bombing.) What happens is that scammers use this natural propensity for morbid curiosity to relieve you of your money by telling you to click on a link to see video or pictures of a particular event. When you do you and then land on their linked page it will look like a normal YouTube or other website but, unbeknownst to you, malicious HTML code will load onto your computer and start hacking into your personal data and sending spam to your email list to perpetuate itself. The best way to avoid this scam is to never click on a link in an email that hasn’t come from a trusted source and isn’t a regular email that’s been addressed directly to you.
4. The “This Needs Your Attention Immediately” scam. (Otherwise known as phishing.) This is one of the most damaging and dangerous scams on the Internet and has been around longest. How it works is that scammers send you an email that looks like it’s from your bank, credit card company, the IRS, PayPal or any one of a number of large companies that you work with financially. The email will have logos and verbiage that look and sound legitimate and will tell you something to the effect that you need to contact them immediately about a ‘problem’ with your account. When you do you will be taken to a website that looks amazingly like the bank or financial institution that sent you the email and will ask for your password and other ID information. Once you give it, your financial goose is cooked as they now have complete access to your account and can drain it at their leisure. (They usually do so right away.)
This scam is powerful and still works because it preys on a person’s propensity for wanting to protect their money. (Talk about ironic.) You can avoid these nasty b*stards by never clicking on an email link that you get from any financial organization asking for your information. None of them ever sent an email asking for this info, ever. If you want to contact your financial institution online, type their exact URL into your browser to go to their legitimate website directly. While it is true that your financial institution will send you an email from time to time they will, again, never ask you for your secret code, ID numbers or anything of the sort. If you received a phishing email forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org and let the feds handle these scums.
5. The ‘Help those in Need’ Scam. Another scam that proves that the world is full of sc*mbags is one that takes advantage of people’s generous and giving nature after a disaster. With this scam you will again receive an email that looks like a legitimate charity sent it. It will, once you click on the inevitable link it includes, send you to a well-made but fake website where you will be asked to make a ‘donation’ in the dollar amount of your choice.
Here’s the thing; very few charities will send a solicitation for donations via email and even fewer will pressure you to donate ‘immediately’. The best way to avoid this scam is to surf to the online charity where you wish to make a donation on your own and, if you want to go a step further, contact them beforehand to make sure that they are legitimate. Many times this scam will be taken into the ‘real world’ and you’ll receive a phone call from someone telling you that they are collecting donations for whatever recent disaster or tragedy has struck. Again, most charities do not solicit donations by phone and you’d be best to just politely tell them to go shove their head in a hole and hang up.
It’s a shame that we have to even write about these scams but the fact is that they happen every day and many people lose their hard earned money to them. If you want to avoid them the best thing to do is use common sense and, before you ever send information or make any type of payments or donations to anyone or any website, talk to others in your circle of friends or family to make sure that you’re making a good decision.