By Audri Lanford and Jim Lanford, co-directors of ScamBusters.org
Here is ScamBusters.org's top 10 predictions of scams you may confront in 2008 and what you can do to avoid them.
10. A new category of scams. It's been several years since cyber-crooks invented an entirely new type of scam, so they're overdue. We suspect this new category will most likely show up at the social networking sites. Their continuing and growing popularity makes them especially vulnerable.
Tip: Always keep your personal and financial information to yourself, including your name, address, phone number, social security number, credit card info and so on.
9. Pump and dump scams. By spreading "hot stock tips" via e-mail, speculators hope "investors" will pump up the value of certain securities—so they can then "dump" the stocks once prices rise (which then causes the values to plummet).
Tip: This scam is easy to avoid: Simply delete these e-mails and never follow their stock "advice."
8. Online dating scams. Lonely hearts sometimes agree to help people they meet at online dating sites financially or to subsidize a potential "mate's" air fare to the United States, so they can meet the love of their life. Naturally, the scam artists simply pocket the money and "fares" and never make the planes.
Tip: Never send money to an online "lover" for any reason.
7. Spyware threats. There are a variety of ways to download spyware. In many cases, people infect their computers by visiting phony Web sites created by phishing scammers. (See #2.)
Tip: Don't click on links contained in an e-mail. Instead, enter the organization's URL yourself or click on a link supplied by a reliable search engine. Use a firewall and make sure you have up-to-date spyware and virus protection software.
6. Overpayment scams. There are many variants of this scam. Most frequently, the scammer sends his victim a check for MORE than the price of an item for sale (or rent) and then creates a reason to ask for a partial refund. The victim refunds the overpayment, but later discovers that the original check was worthless. You can find examples here:
Tip: Make sure the buyer's check is valid before refunding the difference. This can take many weeks with bogus overseas money orders, cashier's checks or bank checks.
5. Viruses, worms and Trojans. (See #7.)
4. Nigerian scams. No longer just from Nigeria, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book. A stranger sends an e-mail asking if you'll accept an enormous sum of money—or a generous fee—for helping them with some financial transaction. The catch? There are always (many) fees or taxes that come up that you must pay.
Tip: Nobody ever gets something for nothing, but you can always get nothing for something. Delete these e-mails!
3. Lottery scams. These scams involve a notification that you've won a lottery (usually foreign) that you never entered. The more sophisticated scammers send a bogus check with the first part of your "winnings," tell you to cash it and then send them back money for fees and/or taxes. You find out weeks later that the initial check was counterfeit, and by then your money is long gone.
Tip: Delete these e-mails. Recognize that it is illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in international lotteries.
2. Phishing scams. You receive an e-mail from what looks like a trusted merchant or financial institution that promises a reward for clicking on a link in the e-mail, or warns of dire consequences for not doing so—often threatening to cancel your account. If you click on the link, however, you'll be taken to a facsimile of the real company's site, where you'll be asked to input personal and financial information that will help scammers steal your identity and/or "just" steal your money.
Tip: Delete these e-mails. If necessary, contact the actual company—by phone or by entering the URL yourself—to confirm whether the organization actually sent you the e-mail. You may also want to send a copy of the suspected scam e-mail to the company. The address is usually something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Identity theft scams. Many of the scams listed above give criminals a chance to steal your identity. Whenever you give strangers sensitive personal or financial information, you open the door to identity theft. For example, phishing scams are one of the top ways that ID theft occurs online, but in the offline world—believe it or not—a friend, colleague or relative is probably the prime suspect.
Tip: Guard your personal and financial data—zealously! Many identity theft criminals have gotten quite sophisticated. That's why we've created a free Identity Theft Information Center to help people protect themselves from identity theft.
Now that you're armed with some knowledge about the top 10 predicted Internet scams for 2008, we hope you'll have a happy and scam-free New Year. And always remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
For more information go to: www.scambusters.org/identitytheft.html.
Audri Lanford and Jim Lanford are co-directors of ScamBusters.org, a public service that has been helping people protect themselves from Internet fraud since they founded the organization in 1994. Scambusters.org provides a free weekly e-mail newsletter that shows you how to protect yourself from cunning scammers—online and offline.