If you have anything valuable, somebody is trying to steal it from you right now. “Consumer Fraud” is a sweeping term for deceptive acts that cause losses to consumers during apparently legitimate transactions. Given technical advancements and the shrinking online globe, defrauders are constantly inventing a myriad of new, improved ways to defraud consumers online. On that cheery note, no matter what kind of consumer fraud you endure, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Meanwhile, let’s explore some of the fraudulent methods that might be used against you online and some ways you might stop them. Mind you, even as I type this article, tech-savvy thieves are inventing new, clever ways to steal.
PHISHING is using electronic means, usually e-mail, to steal personal information such as passwords, credit card information, bank account PINS or prepaid card information. The phisher will pretend to be a legitimate business with which you regularly do business or even a person you know, they will commonly provide a link in the e-mail to a site looking very much like the site of a legitimate business, such as your bank, your credit card issuer, your utility company or a retailer. The e-mail will either ask you to respond in the e-mail or will direct you to click the link, go to the supposedly legitimate site and “confirm,” “verify” and/or “correct” your account information. The e-mail will often say there is some serious difficulty with your account or even that your account will be disabled/closed if you do not reply. Even clicking that link can allow some defrauders to deploy spyware that will gather important personal information from your computer. Closely related to phishing are: SMISHING, which is the use of text messages for the same purpose; VISHING, which is using the telephone for the same purposes; TWISHING, which is the use of Twitter for the same purpose.
PHARMING is the use of a bogus web site that seems like a legitimate site. Here, a defrauder will install malicious codes on a computer or directly on a server. When a legitimate link is clicked to a legitimate web site, the code redirects you to the phony web site. Pharming differs from Phishing, Smishing, Vishing, and Twishing (and squishing? That’s gotta be the next fad) in that it is aimed at a group rather than a single person.
PRODUCTS, SERVICES AND CHARITY SCAMS are plentiful on the internet. A child can create a web site, so an adult thief can certainly do the same. In your online travels, you will encounter hordes of products and/or services that seem too good to be true and probably are too good to be true. You will also encounter a myriad of charities that will tug at your heartstrings for children’s causes and victims, victims, victims: victims of disasters such as tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes or any other disaster; victims of discrimination; victims of abuse. Furthermore, even if the charity is a perfectly legitimate, major charity, you might be directed to a bogus web site (see “Pharming”). I won’t go so far as to say “Bah, Humbug!” but I will say “Take great care.”
DO’S AND DON’TS
DO start with the proposition that a legitimate company or a person you know will not contact you in that manner for such sensitive information.
If an e-mail is sent by some stranger or some company that you do not know, DON’T open the e-mail.
If an e-mail has misspelled words or grammatical errors, DON’T open the e-mail.
DON’T click that link!
DO hover over the link with your mouse without clicking it, to see what exactly the link is. The text may say American Express but the link may be going to another strange URL. (I found this situation in my email just this morning!)
DON’T click that file attached to the e-mail!
DON’T call that number or visit that URL!
DON’T answer the communication in any way.
If an e-mail is supposedly sent by a person or company that you know, DO obtain legitimate phone numbers from another source and call the legitimate company in question or call the person you know and ask about the communication.
If it is an e-mail, DO forward that e-mail to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DO be cautious about entering your personal information on any web site.
If a web site lacks the key or lock symbol at the bottom of the browser, DON’T enter your information or click any links.
If a web site looks different than it did on your last visit, DON’T enter your information or click any links unless you are sure through other means that this is a safe web site.
DON’T download from any web site that you don’t know and trust.
DON’T click links in pop-up windows.
DO install a firewall, make sure it’s turned on and keep it updated.
DO install anti-virus software, make sure it’s constantly on and running, and keep it updated.
DO set your anti-virus software to run a virus scan every time you turn on your computer.
DO have your anti-virus software completely scan your computer system at least once per month.
DO install anti-spyware software, make sure it’s constantly on and running, and keep it updated.
DO set your system and browser security systems to medium or high.
DO keep your system and browser updated.
DON’T send personal information over a public wireless network (“hot spot”).
DON’T order products or services from any online company that you do not know or have not thoroughly checked out through independent sources such as other consumers-review web sites, online complaints and rip-off reports, the Better Business Bureau or the FTC Consumer Fraud Alerts here: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.
DON’T donate to any charity that you do not know.
DON’T buy or donate on any web site that you do not know.
If you ever suspect that online fraud is afoot, DO file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission here: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1.
By Kathy Catanzarite
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
CONSUMER FRAUD DOS AND DON'TS