The Internet has more transaction and business offerings than ever before. An individual can bid on a luxury item and a business owner can advertise to a global market at a click of the button. However, as a consumer, you must be aware that Web-based scams are as varied and abundant as legitimate opportunities.
We've listed some of the most common scams and some ways to identify them. For more detailed information, please consult the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Internet auction fraud involves the misrepresentation or non-delivery of advertised products and is among the top consumer complaints to the FTC.
To help protect yourself, know the auction site and discover what protections it offers, such as guarantees for services not delivered.
You should never have to provide your Social Security or driver's license number electronically.
Do not enter your account information until you have done your research and are ready to make your purchase.
It's likely you'll be using an online payment method such as PayPal. Check out the company handling transaction by reading their Web site and calling their customer service line to ask specific questions about their security policy and terms of service.
Be cautious of sellers who give the appearance of being within the United States but reveal themselves to be out of the country.
Wiring funds directly to the seller leaves you with no options if you are a victim of Internet auction fraud. Even wires through well-known banks or an escrow service will not protect you.
Lottery and sweepstakes scams are on the rise. Operators, often based in Canada, are using email, telephone calls, faxes, and direct mail to trick U.S. consumers into believing they've won large sums of cash through foreign lotteries.
The details of the lottery scams vary with regard to the name of the promotion, the country of origin, the sponsoring organization, the amount of the prize, and other particulars. Scammers will attempt to add legitimacy to their claims by mentioning real financial institutions, government agencies, or well-known companies.
In this type of fraud, you may receive a notice that you are the winner of a lottery or sweepstakes you did not enter and you'll be asked to provide financial details, a large amount of personal information, and copies of your driver's license and passport to prove your identity and receive your winnings. If you comply with these requests, the scammers will have enough information to steal your identity. In order to receive the full amount of the supposed award, you must first pay a small percentage for fake taxes or other fees through Western Union. This money is then stolen and you'll never see your so-called prize.
Do not respond to emails/letters/faxes claiming you have won money. Never give out your confidential personal or account information to anyone in this scenario. Participation in foreign lotteries is against the law.
Someone responds to your posting or ad and offers to use a cashier's check, personal check, or corporate check to pay for the item you're selling. At the last minute, the so-called buyer (or someone acting as his or her agent) comes up with a reason for writing the check for more than the purchase price, and asks you to return the difference after you deposit the check. You agree and wire the excess funds. Later, the check bounces, leaving you liable for the entire amount.
Overpayment fraud is primarily perpetuated by Internet-based transactions (i.e., eBay or Craigslist), but it can also be conducted over the phone. Scams frequently consist of a counterfeit cashier's check or another monetary instrument for an item's payment. The false piece looks legitimate and often contains watermarks and other security features. The check amount is usually greater than the purchase price. The seller or business then deposits the fraudulent check, which later bounces.
In any transaction, independently confirm the buyer's name, street address, and telephone number. Don't accept a check for more than the selling price, no matter how tempting. If the buyer insists you wire back funds, end the proceeding immediately.
Another common Internet crime involves advertising positions allowing people to work as independent agents or from their homes.
Scammers use reputable online job boards to offer at-home accounting work and the opportunity to perform other electronic tasks. Any new employees may be required to receive money into their existing accounts (or open new accounts), then transfer the funds, often overseas. As payment, the employment seeker is instructed to keep a small percentage of the transfer.
Be cautious of any offer without an interview (either in person or by phone). Do not engage in requests to transfer funds or receive packages for shipment. Most of these are check-cashing or shipping scams. Never give out your Social Security Number or any other sensitive information unless you are confident an employer is legitimate.