- Internet & the Web
It’s a Hoax: Watch Out for These Scams
You’ve heard it before, the scammers are out and they want YOUR money. But whether it’s during the holiday season or other times of the year, you are always at risk for being conned out of money, credit card numbers and identification information. Scammers are getting more sophisticated in their methods; computer users must continue to scrutinize activities, especially when it comes to email and online shopping. Even charitable solicitations can be fraudulent; where is the money actually going to? Benefactors and online shoppers should know what to look out for before saying “yes.”
Opening outside links from emails can damage your computer and allow scammers to access your private information. For example, during the holiday season (and other times of the year), watch out for “greeting card” messages which tell you someone has sent an e-greeting. If you click on the link, you may infest your computer with malware — a term used to describe malicious software programming (code, content, scripts, etc.) that scammers use to access private information and disrupt your computer system’s operations. Do Not Click on e-greeting links from an anonymous “friend” or “webmaster;” legitimate e-greetings should have the name of someone you know but they also include a confirmation code. It is recommended that you access the card company’s website directly and enter the confirmation code to view your greeting card. Delete the announcement from your email’s inbox.
Email messages may include something from “the U.S. Postal Service” or some other package carrier saying that something is waiting for you. The United States Postal Inspection Service says do NOT click on links that offer “details;” doing so will introduce malware to your computer system. Delete the message and report the spam at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you get a postcard that tells you to call a number about an “undeliverable” package, contact your local post office directly to determine this card’s legitimacy. Calling a phone number on the postcard may lead you to pay expensive tolls with portions of the fees going to the criminals.
Online Shopping Fraud
Watch out for fake shopping sites. Searching online may lead you to scammer websites that purport to make the sale but not the delivery. Fake websites are out there — they look similar to legitimate retailers — and they may even use branding images that resemble the real thing. Copycat websites want to gather your credit card information or sell fraudulent replicas of expensive goods.
To shop safely online:
· Read the address of the site before you click on it and check out its name carefully. Watch out for misspellings and missing letters in the company’s name.
· Pay for items with a credit card — the transactions can be tracked.
· Be sure the site’s address starts with https (not http; the “s” indicates that the site is secure). Paying through PayPal (or other online payment and banking sites) is another option, if the seller offers it.
· Deal only with shopping sites you trust. Physical location stores such as Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney, Target and other highly visible brands offer secure online shopping services. Major online retailers such as Amazon and eBay offer consumer protection programs. Many stores around the world now sell online; check out their security information and all sales and shipping policies.
Charity Solicitations Fraud
We see them all year long; solicitations meant to help needy children, soldiers and veterans, service workers and the homeless. Charities that send printed materials in the mail may indeed be legitimate but, before sending any money, check out the organizations; call on the telephone and visit their websites. If someone soliciting charitable donations calls you on the phone, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests these safeguards:
· Request information; the organization’s name, physical location and website address, telephone number and brochures.
· Ask if the person contacting you is a professional fundraiser and how much of your donation would go directly to the charity.
· Know the warning signs of a scam: high-pressure pitches, requests for cash, being “thanked” for a donation you don’t remember making, charities which crop up "overnight" in response to a national disaster and charities that offer to send a delivery service to pick up your money.
Remember, never give out your credit card information to anyone who calls you. Emailed solicitations should be ignored (they cannot provide proof of legitimacy).
Gift Card Rip-offs???
Display racks, apparently, may not be as secure as we think. AARP’s Scam-Alert expert Sid Kirchheimer says stores may not even know about it, but thieves can use portable scanners or other ways to copy the codes under the scratch-off strips on gift cards. The thieves put the cards back on the store racks, and later, check the toll-free numbers to see if the cards were activated. With access to the encoded numbers, the scammers can make purchases; making the actual cards on the rack worthless. This scam warning has actually been around a few years; retail and law enforcement organizations say the problems have been remedied. But to play it safe, Kirchheimer and other consumer organizations suggest purchasing gift cards directly from a store’s customer service counter or website. Other recommendations on buying gift cards:
· Do not buy gift cards from auction sites; only buy the cards from the actual stores themselves or partner stores (those, such as grocery and retails stores, that participate in mass-marketing selling of gift cards). Auction sites may unwittingly sell cards that are stolen or fake.
· Keep your receipt as proof of purchase.
· When purchasing the gift card, ask the cashier to check that the balance is available.
· Register your gift card on the store’s website (if applicable). This allows you to check the balance for fraudulent use.
· Social Security numbers, birthdates and bank information are NOT required when purchasing gift cards. If anyone asks you this, report him/her to the authorities.
Here are some good sites to check out, to determine if something is a hoax. Remember, just because you read it on the Internet, doesn’t make it true!
© Copyright by Teri Silver, 2012. All Rights Reserved