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Identity theft was one of the top 10 Internet scams of 2009 since thieves can easily find ways to get financial data information from individuals. These can come through social networks, telesales, by pretending to be a financial institution or by hacking into websites. The thief can use your social security number or credit card information to charge up your accounts and open new ones. They may open up a new phone or wireless account, bank account or even clone your ATM card and make withdrawals. Protect yourself by always reviewing your accounts and credit reports for unauthorized activity. If you are a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, close any accounts you think have been tampered with and put a fraud alert on all your credit reports (Transunion, Equifax and Experian).
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Travel and Vacation Scams
Bogus event tickets and cheap airfare are common ploys. These can come through emails, fake websites and phone calls. Companies try to pull this scam by claiming to be a travel agency representative. The say you have won a free vacation package- but the catch is that you have to pay some upfront fee. Unsuspecting individuals pay the fee and then the company disappears. The phone line is disconnected, website is pulled and you are out of luck. Protect yourself by not giving away your personal information over the phone or on an unsecure website. Be sure to check out any offer you are considering by doing your own research first.
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Phony Online Auctions
The phony online auction is a top Internet scam since it is so easy to set up listings on popular online websites like eBay. Popular scams are: misrepresentation of auction items (receive something that is not what you expected), merchant doesn’t ship item you won and purchased in an auction, and artificially inflating auction item prices by having someone place “fake" bids with bogus user Ids. Buyers in online auctions can also pull scams. Instead of sending you the correct amount they owe you for an item, they send you an amount that is greater than owed to you. Person claims this was an error and asks you to send it back by wire transfer (scammer hopes you haven’t tried to cash their check yet). With online auctions, most sellers are honest. To protect yourself from the bad ones, be sure only to bid on items where the feedback score has over 10 positive reviews from previous customers or sellers.
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Work at Home and Job Cons
With people desperate for jobs, this top ten Internet scam is on the rise. With work at home scams a foreign company offers to hire you, claiming they are having trouble accepting money from US customers. If you agree, they ask for your personal information, which includes your bank account/credit card information. This can results in identity theft and loss of money. If the opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A company or individual should not charge you a fee to guarantee you a job.
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Family Tragedy or Death Threat Scams
In a family tragedy scam, a person contacts you by email claiming that a relative’s life is being threatened (and they ask for money). The scammer plays on a person’s emotions hoping you will fall for their scheme. On the flip side, scammers may claim that there is a death threat against you, and that they have been hired to kill you. If you contact them, they will try and extort money from you to “save your life". So it is best just to ignore them.
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Fake Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware Offers
The fake anti-virus/anti-spyware offer was one of the top internet scams of 2009 since people are always concerned about protecting their computer and personal information. Scammers try to sell or give away free anti-virus/spyware online. Those who download it end up infecting their computer with spyware and viruses. Another version of this scam is the fake anti-virus pop up. The text on the pop up claims your computer is infected with viruses. If you click on the pop up in any way, your computer becomes infected with malicious virus or spyware code. Protect yourself from these scams by not clicking on any pop ups (or setting your computer to block them). You should also protect your computer with a firewall and legitimate current anti-virus/anti-spyware software.
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Nigerian Inheritance Scams
Scammer offers large amounts of money (if you help them), saying a wealthy husband has died and need help to get his money released. This con tries to convince you that if you pay these fees, the money will be released. But of course there is no real money coming to you no matter how much you give.
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Pre-Approved Loan and Credit Related Cons
Loan and credit related scams prey on individuals and small businesses with bad credit scores and financial situations. Some of these ploys involve pre-approved loans or credit cards that ask for an upfront fee. (Not to be confused with an annual fee which is based on activity). Others prey on home owners for home improvement loans that will end up tapping into their equity. These loans are typically ten percent above market value. Scammers hope that you will lose your home due to an inability to pay off the loan.
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Fake Emails or Spoofed Websites
The fake email or spoofed website is a top internet scam that can affect un-savvy web surfers. Scammers use forums, boards and other social media to lure people to their fake online “store". When people try to purchase items, they close up the site and keep the money. Another email scam involves a sending you a message that there is something wrong with your credit card, PayPal or bank account. The email will have a link to “access" your account. This will lead to a fake unsecure website which can steal your account information if you enter your information on their “login" screen. Protect yourself from this by not clicking on links in these emails. Instead, go directly to the website suspected of questionable activity by typing in the official web address through your browser.
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Holiday scams usually come through emails. One is a ploy to get you to pay a fee to name a star. This is a scam since only the International Astronomical Union can do this. Another one is the fake charity scam. Playing on your emotions, these thieves hope to squeeze money out of you. Protect yourself by not writing checks to charities you have not researched thoroughly. Legitimate charities will not have a problem with this.