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Keen eye needed to avoid Internet scam artists

August 10, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

If you have an active e-mail address, this message probably looks familiar:

"Attension: I am Stephane Toure, the only son of late former Director of Finance Chief Ngama R. Toure, Sierra-Leone diamond and mining corporation. I must confess my agitation is real, and my words is my bond ... all I needed from you is to furnish me with your bank particulars ... For you to assist me transfer this money in your private bank account, the said amount is $37 million ... I am compensating you with 20 percent of the total money amount, now all my hope is banked on you ..."

Sound suspicious? It should.

This Nigerian Money Offer is one of many scams that con artists use to prey on Internet users. Internet fraud encompasses scams ranging from online auctions in which items are misrepresented, or never received after being sold to the highest bidder, to pleas for help from unseen individuals with alleged fortunes from Africa - a scam that has increased in frequency 900 percent from 2000 to 2001, according to information from the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center.

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Consumers need to beware of con artists who prowl the Internet stealing identification information, bank account data and credit card numbers with bogus e-mail and Web sites that seem to come from legitimate companies, the National Consumers League warns. The NCL recently partnered with the Federal Trade Commission and FBI to warn Internet users about the increasing popular identity and credit card theft scam, known as "phisher sites."

You should be especially wary if someone claiming to be from a company with which you have an account asks for information that the business already has.

While consumers fell prey to fraudulent online general merchandise sales, Nigerian money offers, computer equipment and software sales and Internet access services, online auctions dominated Internet fraud in 2002.

Fishy auctions accounted for more than $13 million of the $14 million lost due to online fraud last year. Ninety percent of the nearly 37,000 consumer complaints filed in 2002 dealt with online auctions, according to the National Fraud Information Center Web site at www.fraud.org.

Det. Shawn Schultz of the Hagerstown Police Department, which has investigated several cases of fraud involving local sellers on the popular e-Bay Internet auction site, advises online auction buyers to carefully screen sellers before bidding on their wares. E-Bay's seller feedback feature allows prospective buyers to read input from others who have done business with the seller in question. Schultz recommends using caution when dealing with sellers who have changed their user identities in the last 30 days.

People of all ages fell victim to online auction fraud in 2002, but most complaints - 28 percent - came from individuals ages 30 to 39. More fraud casualties (13 percent) lived in California than any other state. New York (7 percent), Texas (6 percent), Florida (5 percent) and Pennsylvania (4 percent) followed in the victim location ranking, according to statistics posted on the National Fraud Information Center Web site. Statistics were not listed for Maryland and West Virginia.

You can report suspected Internet fraud by using the online form at www.fraud.org or by calling 1-800-876-7060. For guidelines for shopping safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline.

Be cautious and skeptical to avoid Internet fraud


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