These days, every computer should come with a warning: User beware! Internet surfers may not have to contend with high tides, but they do have to deal with some unscrupulous online pirates.
“Cybercrime is our third priority after counterterrorism and counterintelligence,” says Barry Maddox, special agent and spokesperson for the Baltimore office of the FBI.
One of the most insidious Internet scams involves link alteration, whereby the return address in a Web page is sent to the hacker’s site rather than to the legitimate site. So, if you receive an e-mail from your bank asking you to update your personal information, beware. Before you type in your Social Security number on a site that looks suspect, call your bank’s customer service department to confirm that it is indeed requesting the information.
“Something else we’re seeing a lot of is Internet auction fraud,” Maddox says. This occurs when consumers log on to sites like eBay to purchase items and never receive them. Maddox emphasizes to consumers: “Always go through secure sites like PayPal when you purchase items on the Internet,” especially since auction fraud accounted for nearly half of all Internet-related fraud complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2003.
Geraldine Walsh, deputy director of the Office of Investor Education and Assistance at the Securities and Exchange Commission, advises consumers to also beware of online investment scams. “Fraudsters rely on the sad truth that many of their targets simply won’t bother to investigate before they invest,” Walsh says. “Savvy investors take the time to do their own independent research.”
For tips on how to protect yourself against Internet fraud and to report it, log on to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (www.ifccfbi.gov).