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Preventing Online Fraud

Internet scams come and go every day, but it sometimes seems like more are coming in than going out. Your inbox is filled with offers from people and companies all over the world. Some of them are obviously too good to be real, so you trash them: others seem legitimate, or at least they COULD be, so you take a closer look.

That’s when you begin to be suckered in by the promises of free goods or services: the only problem is that they aren’t really free. The scam artists will empty your bank accounts, steal your identity, rack up fraudulent charges in your name, and leave you miserable. The good news: you can stop it from happening.

Most Internet scams are successful because the creators are counting on you to be greedy. The perpetrators know that you’ll want something for nothing, whether it’s a round-trip cruise for two or a cut of the multi-million-dollar fortune they need you to help smuggle out of Africa. As long as you’re willing to succumb to that lust for free goodies, con artists will have a way into your life - and, even worse, your bank accounts. Knowing this helps you put on a great defense: here’s the other information you’ll need.

E-mailed requests for "confirmation" of your information, especially usernames, passwords and bank account numbers, should be forwarded to the company as well as your Internet provider’s abuse account. Reputable companies will NEVER ask you to verify information via e-mail: this scam usually works well because people don’t think before they hit the Reply button.

Similarly, e-mails from individuals claiming to have millions of dollars that need to be smuggled out of foreign countries should be forwarded to the FBI. These messages have been going around for YEARS: if the person who sent it REALLY needed just one person to help by volunteering his or her bank account, it would have happened a long time ago - and you would not get the message because the deal would have been closed long before you came along. Millions of dollars have been stolen from numerous individuals all over the world because of these letters. Don’t volunteer to be the next victim.

Hot buys, great deals and other services that sound like they came straight from Lady Luck’s imagination to your computer should not be trusted. Research the companies and ask as many questions as you deem necessary to establish that the claims are believable. Check the Better Business Bureau and the FBI’s anti-fraud site for more information. In the end, it’s usually best to avoid these "great" offers altogether. They often cost more money and frustration than they’re really worth.

All of this might make you think it’s time to turn off the computer to protect yourself. That doesn’t have to happen. You can definitely protect yourself from online fraud without giving up all of the invaluable resources and time-saving tools that can be found on the Internet. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself.

Use different usernames and passwords for each site. Your Web-based e-mail should have a password that is a combination of numbers and letters: this makes it difficult for password-cracking software to break into, and it greatly decreases the odds of people guessing it. If you can’t keep all your passwords straight, write them down in a SECURE place: don’t leave them taped to your workplace computer.

Don’t give payment information online unless it’s through a secure server. An alternative is to telephone your credit-card number or send a money order through the post office.

Before you sign up for any service, check the site’s privacy policy. Even the most reputable companies sometimes sell your information: if this is the case, it can go to anybody with enough money to buy the list.

When you’re surfing the Web, check the addresses of each site you visit, especially when you click on links within pages. Be sure that you’re still where you intended to be. The same goes for spelling: some scam artists will set up sites with addresses very similar to the most popular sites, and then count on surfers to mistype.

Keep your computer free of spyware and viruses. Use the appropriate programs to keep these intrusions out of your system and prevent would-be thieves from stealing passwords, account numbers and other vial information.

The most important thing that you can do to protect yourself is to think before you explore "special offers" and "great deals." Ponder it before you make any decisions, and be sure to ask questions. If you feel pressured to sign up without looking into the offer, don’t do it: there are other places to go for what you want or need, minus the hassle.

Also: stay up-to-date on the latest scams by visiting the FBI’s online fraud site. Knowing what’s out there will help you stay ahead of it - and keep you from becoming the next victim.

Free Software to Secure your PC:

The below companies all offer free versions of their popular security software. In most cases the free versions will be adequate for the home PC user.

This article was written by Sarah Borroum.