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Computer Corner: Internet and E-mail scams

by Mark Smith, Web and Opinion editor

 

Internet security is a hot topic in today’s high tech society. While the Internet serves as a great tool for communication, research, and entertainment, it has also become a haven for scam artists and identity thieves.

 

Over the summer, I received a series of e-mails, from the United Kingdom. According to one e-mail, a deceased relative in Europe listed me as the primary beneficiary to his will, leaving me with an inheritance of more than $1 million. I didn’t even know I had family on the other side of the world. A few days later, I received another e-mail from the lawyer of a deceased business man in Africa. Apparently, the business man was well-off financially, with no friends or family. The lawyer asked me to accept the funds in order to prevent the government from laying claim to them and offered me a huge settlement if I agreed to go along.

By summer’s end, I had five dead relatives in Europe and I was offered four shady business deals. The catch to all these e-mails required me to provide personal information including checking account and social security numbers. This is just one example of how scammers try to rip you off and steal your identity.

The best way to avoid e-mail scams is to immediately delete any e-mail from people or organizations you are not affiliated with. To update or verify your accounts, always go to the company’s secure Web site.

One of the most popular e-mail scams took place in 2003 when users of the popular online auction site eBay received e-mails advising them to update their accounts or risk losing their auctions. The e-mail looked legitimate, but it required the recipients to fill out an attached form, a practice that should have raised a red flag as legitimate businesses will never ask for personal information via e-mail. (This is usually stated in the Terms of Service users are required to agree to when creating online accounts.) Many eBay customers lost their accounts, money, and identities to the thieves.
High tech scams aren’t just limited to e-mail. Internet chat rooms are a great place for scam artists to practice their trade.

Chat room scams are a favorite among con artists. The victim meets the scammer online, they chat and become friends. After a few weeks or months of communicating, a friendship has developed and the scammer drops sad news about a sick relative who needs money for an operation. The victim takes the person seriously and sends money to the scammer. In some cases, the scammer has even offered to visit the victim, only to state that they can’t afford the trip. Again, the victim feels sorry for their online friend and sends money. The scammer never arrives and manages to disappear from the chat room completely, perhaps by using a new screen name to help search for the next victim.

To protect yourself from chat room scams, always be skeptical of others in the room. Never give money to people if they ask, no matter how well you think you know them or what type of sad story they may tell you. It’s very easy for people to create false personas online.

To report Internet and e-mail fraud, there are a number of agencies to contact. Local law enforcement can help in small cases, but for bigger problems, such as the loss of money or to stop international scams, the incident can be reported to the FBI (www.fbi.gov.) The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) also handles cases of Internet fraud and scams.

Remember, the best way to avoid becoming a victim to e-mail and Internet scammers is to use common sense.

 

2004, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
 
This site is maintained by Mark Smith
Website done by Rick Bernico