Watch Out For That Scam

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The IFCC (Internet Fraud Complaint Center) received over 200,000 complaint submissions for 2004, an increase of 66.6% from 2003. The total dollar loss from all referred cases exceeded 68 million dollars, an average loss of $894 per complaint. There are many types of internet frauds that exist including auction, email, foreign investment letters and online dating. Here are some ways to identify a possible scam or fraud that you may have encountered while surfing the internet.


Auction sites are one of the best places to purchase and sell items. They are also one of the easiest places to become an internet fraud victim. Auction fraud represented 71% of the total referred fraud complaints. How the scam works is that you win the auction, but never receive the item. Most of the time the auction site cannot assist you in recovering the money stolen. They will remove the member's account and disqualify the member's email address from their site but are not able to do much else. It is in your best interest to research each seller before making any purchases. Auction sites have a rating system for their members and I would advise you to check this and their profile for certain clues. The first is to check how many sales have been completed and the response from the buyers. I would suggest no less than a hundred transactions for moderately priced items (less than a hundred dollars). A scammer will become a member and sell fifty items for a dollar or less usually in a week or two to build up his member rating. Then they will post twenty auctions ending within a day of each other for items that retail for over a hundred dollars but they are selling them for an unprofitable amount. Again, research a seller's auction history before placing your bid. Also, if Western Union or similar is stated to be the only form of payment, move right on to the next auction.

Fraudulent Email

Email is a great form of communication and also an easy target for schemers. Electronic mail is the primary mechanism by which a perpetrator makes contact representing 63% compared to just 7% by phone. Fraud victims will receive an email with a link stating that their account information needs to be updated. Upon clicking on the link you are taken to a page that looks almost identical to the member page and asks you to enter in your name, address, social security number, checking account routing number and/or credit card number. When you hit the submit button, your information is instantly shuttled to someone waiting to separate you from your money. Before submitting your information, verify that you are truly on the site that the link states it is taking you.

Foreign Investment Letter

Another popular email scheme is an email from a foreign country stating that they have millions that need to be transferred to the United States but need a bank account to finalize the transaction. The sender of the email is willing to give you a percentage of the amount transferred in exchange for using your bank account. Never submit your social security number and checking account or credit card number via an email or an unfamiliar website. This is also known as Nigerian letter fraud and among one of the highest dollar loss frauds with an average of $3000.

Online Dating

You would also be surprised how easily people give their hard earned money away to people they meet over the internet but not in person. The victim meets someone in a chat room or message board and builds a friendship with the perpetrator who usually sends the victim a picture of an attractive person. When the time comes to meet, the schemer admits to not having the money for airfare and expenses, so the victim sends the money via Western Union or similar money transfer service, never to hear back from the person again.

Avoiding Scams

Here are a few ways to avoid becoming a victim of a scam:

  • Do not disclose your social security number, credit card or banking numbers to anyone you do not feel comfortable with.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau ( and before making a purchase from an unfamiliar website and company.
  • When purchasing items online avoid force seller tactics. If they can't wait, then tell them you're not buying. Whenever possible, use escrow. Escrow is a third party who holds the money until the item or service has been delivered to the buyer.
  • Avoid Western Union or similar forms of payment at all costs.
  • Most importantly, do your research.
  • Please visit the IFCC or view the annual report at for more information about internet fraud.

    James Junior is a freelance writer and web programmer for

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