Internet Scams to Watch For In 2010

We have all received these unscrupulous messages in our junk mail folders: pesky e-mail subject lines reading “Prize Notifications” or “Check This Out!”  Indeed, there is a medley of scams combing the Internet.  Unfortunately, some Internet users cannot decipher what is real and what is a scam.

The word scam has several definitions – plot to obtain money with the intention to mislead a person, fraudulent business used to raise money using fake photos, forged documents, non-existent addresses and fake personalities.

Sadly, there are professional scammers of both sexes whose aim is to victimize an unsuspecting person or persons. The confidence game (con for short) often works with a person called a shill, who is an accomplice. The public needs to be aware of these vicious types of deception. Here are a few scams that have infiltrated the Internet this year:

The Nigerian Scam

Nigerian Penal Code has a section called 419 which makes con games illegal. The Nigerian money scam occurs when individuals are sent an e-mail, letter or fax from a fake wealthy foreigner who needs help transferring a large sum of money from overseas. The con artist requests your bank account information to pay for any upfront wire fees. In the end, the large sum never transfers, and your bank account information has been exposed. This scam dates back to the 1920s and was known as ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ scam.

Lottery Scams

The subject line reads “Prize Notification” or “You’ve Won!”. These scams are unsolicited e-mails or phone calls telling people that they have won a prize or a lottery that you entered. More advanced scammers sometimes mail you a counterfeit check. It’s illegal for American citizens to play international lotteries, and if you cash the check, you will be arrested for trying to pass a fake check. Just delete these e-mails.
Another form of lottery or sweepstake schemes is the 900 toll number scam. You receive a letter or prize package in the mail, and they instruct you to call this 900 number to listen to a recorded message. This scam has been around for a long time, but surprisingly people still fall into their trap. The calls are often foreign calls with significant charges and lengthy recorded messages.

Phishing Schemes

Some e-mail websites are getting hip to phishing schemes and even have the option to report any of these fraudulent e-mails.  However, these scams still remain the most widespread today. Phishing scams are e-mails that appear to be from a credible financial institution or merchant such as PayPal who wants you to update your account information. Some will suggest that your account has been hacked and they want to confirm you identity by asking very personal account information. The image in the e-mail is often blurred and clearly fake. The website they direct you to is also fake. You can report these e-mails to your actual bank or merchant.

Another threat to be aware of is downloading Internet spyware software. When people click on these links in their e-mail, your computer may be infected by the fake website created by phishing con artists. Use a firewall and update your virus software from a reputable source.

Get Rich Now!

If only these scams were true, we’d all be rich. They aren’t so much scams, but rather schemes. They come in the form of work-at-home employment, pyramids or property investment/real estate e-mails. The underlying message is “here’s this great business opportunity, just pay this amount to get started and we’ll send you everything you need to become a millionaire.” The e-mails sound really convincing too. They scream “Do It in Your Spare Time!” or offer free gifts to help you become the next Warren Buffett.

The real estate and property investment schemes involve a little bit more on the part of the consumer. Consumers get a private invitation in the mail with two tickets for a free presentation. There’s free coffee and bagels, and you dedicate hours of your day to hear a range of speakers talk about how much money you can make in the stock market and in property investments. Then they invite you to the back of the room to enroll in a costly course. They lure you in with promises of learning everything about investing and pay no money down.  All you are left with, however, is less money than you originally had.

By becoming a savvy individual, you can ensure that you do not fall victim to scams that are infiltrating 2008