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Protect Yourself Watch out for These Top Internet Scams

Internet scams are constantly evolving. As long as there are heartstrings to tug, con-artists around the world are targeting a computer or mobile device near you. Knowledge of the most common internet scams, and what you can do to safeguard your personal information and wallet, can save you heartache and money. Here are some common scams that continue to evolve:

The 419 – Advance Fee Scam

The 419, or “Nigerian Scam,” is one of the most common scams on the Internet, one you may have already seen in your own inbox. The scammer usually claims to be a member of a wealthy Nigerian or another West African family, reaching out to you personally after the death of a loved one. He or she seeks to relocate a large fortune out of the country for safekeeping purposes and into your bank account. The catch? You must submit small payments for fees in return for a large chunk of their cash cache.

The Phishing Scam

You receive an email from a seemingly familiar enterprise you deem legitimate such as your bank, university or retailer you frequent. The message directs you to a site, usually to verify personal information such as email addresses and passwords, then steals your information and exposes your computer to attack by scammers. Phishing scams are among the most common types of scams. It is widely believed the Target data breach, which reached millions of victims, started with a phishing email scam.

You should never click the links provided in suspicious emails. Doing so will make your computer and personal information vulnerable to viruses and malware. Again, though the sender may seem legitimate – which is exactly what the scammer wants you to believe – no reputable institution will ask for your password or other key personal information online. Phishing emails will often contain typos or grammatical errors, and the sender's email address often looks suspicious.

Lottery Scam

Congratulations! You’ve won the lottery or some other large amount of money! Except you haven’t. This bogus email comes to you out-of-the-blue –usually claiming to be a part of international sweepstakes – stressing you’ve won big and that you just need to send over a processing fee or get in touch with someone who can process your winnings.

Unless you have entered some legitimate lottery, chances are you haven’t won the jackpot. When you win the lottery, you contact the appropriate retailer – not the other way around.

Fake Check or Money Transfer

You list something on an auction-based website, and the winning bidder offers to pay you more than the offered purchase price via cashier’s, corporate or personal check. Upon receiving the scammer’s counterfeit check, you are conned into sending the difference back through bank wire. Then you have to pay the bank back in full once the fake check bounces.

Never accept payment for more than your selling price. Additionally, you should opt for a secure form of e-payment, such as PayPal or Google Wallet, to ward off scammers.

The Lonely Heart

Have you ever heard of being “cat-fished”? This is where a person pretends to be someone they aren’t and then becomes romantically entangled with them. Thru an on-line dating service or social media site, scammers will develop an on-line relationship with someone. A story will evolve whereby the scammer will obtain access to bank accounts or send checks/deposits to that account for use from other scams. Eventually, the accounts will become negative when all the fraudulent transactions are reversed or the checks bounce.

The Online Shopper/Advertising

An email often solicits for a person to be an on-line shopper, reviewer of services, or pay someone to perform a task – such as placing advertising on their personal vehicle (wrapping the car). This scam normally involves fake checks or fraudulent ACH deposits – that you keep a portion of the deposit, pay for services but always wire transfer or transmit payments back to the fraudster.

*Special note:

You should never accept and deposit a check when the sender desires or requires you to make payments back to them by wire transfer. Never share personal bank account passwords with anyone or give anyone access to your account.

The Bottom Line

It’s safe to assume that if anyone is asking for your bank or personal information, it’s a scam. You should never give out personal information to anyone on the internet who contacts you directly. If you have to make a financial transaction online, make sure you’re doing so on a secure server and through a reputable site.

If for any reason you believe you’ve been scammed, you should immediately change all of your passwords and delete any malicious software you may have downloaded. And always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you believe you've been the victim of a scam, you should contact your local law enforcement authorities. You can also report the scam to the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Complaints can also be filed to your state attorney general's office or the consumer protection agency.