As online communication has grown, so has the number of online scam artists. This means even the savviest Internet user must stay ever-vigilant to potential threats. While it may sound a little scary, the reality is that online, just as in real life, it’s important to keep your wits about you.
Here are five smart ways to avoid some of the top Internet scams:
1. Email phishing: Don’t get hooked
The sell: So you’ve received an email, supposedly from your bank, asking for your login name and password or else they’ll close your account. Sounds urgent, right? Wrong. It’s a scam called phishing. No reputable bank or other online organization would ever ask for your personal account details or login information. Same goes for your email password, your bank card PIN code or anything else that you would normally not even tell your children. Skilled phishers will even create incredibly accurate site mock-ups, so don’t be fooled.
The solution: Delete or ignore these emails, no matter how many exclamation marks they include.
2. Fake charities: Just say no
The sell: In a particularly heinous recent trend, fake charities pounce on worldwide calamities because of their visibility and emotional power to mobilize donations. After the 2011 Japanese tsunami, a slew of fake charities popped up overnight, preying upon people’s desire to help the survivors. The power of the Internet and the ease of online payments have made donating money easier than ever. Unfortunately it’s also much harder to track your money and even to vet potential charities.
The solution: Check into money requests, particularly over email, just as you would ask a person on the street to prove the money they are collecting is actually going to a charity. Do your homework — find out about the charity, learn about its mission, contact it directly before donating. Verify its tax status and check its spending.
3. “Free” giveaways: There’s no free lunch
The sell: You receive an email or click a pop-up ad telling you you’ve won something cool. Just input your personal information (and perhaps your credit card number — for shipping costs, of course) and you’ll get a new electronic gadget, TV or free vacation voucher! Not likely; at best, you’ll give your personal information to a spammer who will bombard you with junk mail for years without receiving anything in return. At worst, a phisher could pillage your credit card through online purchases.
The solution: As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you haven’t entered any contests, how can you suddenly win something? Free giveaways are never free and seldom involve things that are highly valuable, anyway. Ignore, ignore, ignore.
4. Shopping for counterfeits: Too good to be true
The sell: You come upon an insanely good online deal on some designer item, such as a Gucci handbag. It’s incredibly cheap, shipping seems reasonable, so why not take advantage of this great deal? Because if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeited products are a fact of life and while you might easily spot a fake in person, online selling is a whole different animal, because all you usually see is a photo.
The solution: Be wary of deeply discounted luxury items that seem undamaged. Search for the average online price and use your common sense. Contact the seller to verify the item is real and ask why it’s been discounted so heavily. If the seller operates on a reputable auction site such as eBay, read the customer reviews and make an educated judgment.
5. Charities: Do a pre-cheque check
Make sure a donation request is on the level by visiting sites such as these: