The internet has opened up a whole raft of new opportunities for fraudsters to trick the unwary. Internet crime can take many forms and the perpetrators are constantly thinking up new ways to deceive. There is no need for panic as long as a few safeguards and rules are applied.
Keep your computer safe. You must have good up to date anti-virus protection and preferably a firewall. Both can be downloaded free of charge, examples are Avast or AVG anti-virus and 'Zone Alarm' firewall. Windows Vista has its own firewall and it is best not to use another. See that your computer is set to receive automatic security patches (updates) from Microsoft.
Follow two cardinal rules to keep nasties away from your computer:
1. Never open e-mail attachments or links, even from trusted sources, unless you are sure they are genuine, ie. the subject title and text in the main body explains the attachment or link. If in doubt, dont!
2. Beware of clicking on any links from or to dodgy sites, these sometimes pretend to be from reputable organizations, such as banks, British Gas, Inland Revenue, Amazon, Ebay etc. Some try to frighten you into clicking on links by bogus warnings that your account is overdue or that there has been an unusual transaction.
If trusting people can be persuaded to pass on confidential account information large sums can be syphoned from their accounts. This is known as 'phishing' and reputable firms do not request information this way. Even the 'No thank you' or 'close' button can be a trap. Try pressing Control + W to get rid of a doubtful site.
Cambridgeshire Trading Standards give this advice for reporting instances of 'Phishing'
Phishing scams should be reported directly to the company they are claiming to be from - there is usually information about how to pass them this sort of information on their websites.
February 2012 update. Action Fraud is a government sponsored website where you can report suspect cases of online fraud. Please see: http://www.actionfraud.org.uk/
February 2013. The Metropolitan Police have just issued a booklet giving advice on avoiding many kinds of scam
The internet is a great way to buy goods often at a more favourable price than on the High Street, as the seller has few overhead costs. The problem is that anyone can set up an Internet site from anywhere in the world, selling goods that may be counterfeit, or never arrive. Beware of items that greatly undercut the price of well known brands as they are probably counterfeit. Only deal with trusted sites such as Ebay and if possible use the PayPal method of payment, or use a credit card that will give you redress for items costing more than £100 if things go wrong.
Do not reply to emails, often from Nigeria or Russia, offering great business opportunities, vast fortunes or seeking sympathy. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Malware consists of uninvited files that try to insinuate themselves into your computer. At best they seek commercial advantage, at worst they could take over your computer and steal private information and go on to infect your online contacts.
A good counter is to instal an anti-malware programme. 'Malwarebytes' is a free programme that has a good reputation. I have used it for years with complete success, highly recommended.
The Perils of Facebook
Almost since its inception, Facebook has been fertile ground for hackers and phishers. Today, with 600 million members, Facebook is experiencing a torrent of malware attacks. To avoid being caught I recommend going to the Bob Rankin site, he has some excellent advice. Just enter Bob Rankin into Google search and his site will come up.
Is It Safe To Use Credit Cards Online?
This advice comes from Bob Rankin, the well known and well respected computer 'geek' frrom the USA
You wouldn't give your credit card info to just any stranger who asked for it, would you? But you do - every time you hand over your plastic to a waitress or store employee. How do you know that person isn't selling your info to some guy in a dark alley? Furthermore, dozens of strangers you never even meet get to see your credit card info as any charge slip you sign makes its way through processing and into a filing cabinet somewhere. What prevents people from using this info fraudulently?
Honesty, mainly; most people are honest. Fear of getting caught may sound more plausible, and that's part of it too. Whatever the reason, the odds of credit card fraud are acceptable to you or you would not be using credit cards at all. So are there any additional risks in using credit cards online?
Your credit card info is transmitted over the public Internet each time you send it to a Web vendor. The good news is that most online transactions happen automatically, so no human hands or eyeballs come into contact with your credit card info. In that sense, buying online is actually safer than making a purchase over the phone, in a physical store, or in a restaurant. But it is possible that bad guys are "sniffing" the Internet data stream looking for strings of credit card data. However, if your data is transmitted over an encrypted Web link, the bad guys won't be able to read it without a prohibitive amount of effort and expense. So make sure any website where you make a purchase uses encryption!
Some Practical Safety Tips for Online Shopping
But how? As geeky as it sounds, checking for an encrypted connection is actually pretty easy. Look in your Web browser's address bar. If the address of the page you are on begins with "http:" then the link is NOT encrypted. If it begins with "https:" then it is encrypted - note the "s" before the colon in the second example? This indicates that the link is made using the Secure Sockets Layer protocol, a strong encryption method that frustrates almost any would-be data thief.
But what if the Web vendor *is* the bad guy? You may send your credit card info, securely, to the very person who wants to steal and use it. Well, that waitress could be the same kind of person; you take your chances. But there are signs that can warn you if it may not be a good idea to give your credit card info to a Web vendor.
A vendor who sells something illegal probably has few scruples about using your credit info illegally. So if you're buying drugs without proper prescriptions; illegal substances; child porn; or anything that you know perfectly well you shouldn't be buying, then the odds that your credit card info will be misused are presumably much higher. The "vendor" will assume that your fear of being exposed will trump your anger over being cheated.
Keep your eye on that address bar discussed above. It should always display the domain name of the site you're supposed to be on, i. e., "paypal.com," and not something even slightly different such as "payspal.com." The secure "https" protocol designator should not change to the unsecure "http" either. These are signs that your Web browser has been misdirected to an imitator or "phishing" site that exists only to scam people. (See my article Phishing Scams for info more on that topic.) When you finish entering the credit card data and press "submit" or "order," you may get an error message saying your transaction did not go through. But the error may be yours; you may have just given your credit card info to the wrong people.
Check it Out Before Checking Out
You can help to ensure that you're really on the website you intend by NOT clicking on links in your email, which may have been sent clever scammers. When in doubt, type in the URL manually, or use a bookmark that you know is safe.
And a little due diligence never hurts, either. Before making a purchase from an online vendor, check for online reviews, use the Better Business Bureau website, or do a little googling to see if the store has a good reputation. Trustmarks that appear on a site, such as the BBB, TRUSTe, VeriSign or McAfee Secure logos, can be a good indication that a merchant is legit. But even those can be bogus, so verify by clicking them.
Paying via Paypal gives consumers recourse against fraud online. If you get scammed, report the incident to Paypal. In most cases, they will side with the consumer and issue a credit, unless the merchant can prove that the goods were delivered as promised. Shopping with a credit card that limits your risk is also a good idea. Check with your bank or card issuer to see if they have a low or "zero liability" policy that protects you if the card is misused. Another option is the "disposable credit card" offered by Amex and other card issuers, which give you a one-time-use card number assigned to you for a specific purchase.
Let's sum it up... Credit card fraud can happen online or offline. But to minimize the risk of online shopping, remember these tips: Watch your address bar. Look for encrypted connections. Don't trust links in emails. And check reputation before you hit that Order Now button. These simple precautions will prevent most credit card fraud on the Web.
Spam is a curse of the internet
Much of it is being sent out by innocent users whose computers have been hijacked by implanted programmes. If your computer is running very slowly or is acting in other strange ways you could be a victim. Running a virus scan with a good anti-virus programme should show up any lurking intruder.
Other Internet traps are the so called Scareware programmes. A warning pops up that your computer is infected with all manner of intrusions - viruses, spyware, registry problems etc. and offering to fix them by clicking on a link and probably paying a fee. Typical names are Scan & Repair, AntiVirus 2009. Do not click, do not pass go, do not fall for the scam. If you have ANY doubts, ask a knowledgeable computer friend or your tech support person at work. If you have no friends and no job, just close the popup using the little X in the upper right hand corner.
Also please do not pass on any chain-mail type emails containing dire warnings about supposed viruses that will wreck you computer. They are invariably hoaxes and at best clog the internet, at worst they could themselves contain a virus. The anti-virus organizations run a 24 hour watch for new viruses and will take action far quicker than these warnings can be passed on, if your AV is up to date you should be safe. Even well intentioned 'pretty picture' or joke chain emails can be used to harvest email addresses, resulting in still more spam.
October 2011. Scam emails, what can be done? Some more advice from ECNW
We all get them, some are just annoying others have the more sinister purpose of getting you to part with money by pretending to be some legitimate organization, some poor person desperately needing money, or the old chestnut of asking you to share in some large fortune, if you first send money of course.
I have had two such quite recently, one that claimed to be from PayPal, another from a well known bank, of which I am not even a customer. There are plenty more.
The facts are that many innocent people are still falling for these tricksters, so what can be done to try and stop them.
I have had this advice through Neighbourhood Watch channels which seems worth passing on.
If you have suffered a loss as a result of the scam you should phone Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Yet another cunning scam has surfaced again recently:
The Holiday Distress scam
You receive an email from a friend or relative who is abroad on holiday, disaster has stuck and they have either lost, or had their money and cards stolen, they desperately need a temporary loan in order to get home, would you be a kind friend and help them out by transferring some money to their account?
It all looks quite legitimate, as the email seems to come from someone you know and is addressed to you.The likely real story is that the fraudsters have acquired personal details of your friend, probably by hacking into their computer, and are using the friend's address book and existing emails to build up a convincing story. The account details would ensure that any money transferred would go into their hands.
If you get such a request you would be wise to email the friend for confirmation before parting with any money.
Your Computer is Infected Scam
You get a telephone call, probably from India, to tell you that your computer has bugs or viruses, but don't worry we can fix it online, just give me us the necessary details to gain access to your computer.
Hang up straight away and have no truck with this kind of call.
If you agree to their request they will probably want paying for advice that at best is useless and at worst could take over your PC to implant a malicious programme that will log you passwords.
The door to door conmen
Cowboy builders knock on the doors of vulnerable people
and offer to do cheap repairs, which often turn out to be badly done and far from cheap. Many frail people are being taken in and some have lost many thousands of pounds, as the work that the con-men say needs to be done escalates, along with the cost!. Often the victims are too embarrassed to report their misfortune. See http://www.safefromscams.co.uk/BuilderScams.html
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