January 29 2012 by Ellen Roseman
This month, I wrote columns about two of the best known scams. And as usual, I heard from other people who fell for these scams — or came close to falling for them.
When it comes to online sales pitches, extreme skepticism is required. If you don’t see the people involved, why should you trust anything they say?
The first fraud I wrote about usually starts with a phone call. Someone who works for Microsoft says your system is in danger of crashing and can be fixed if you give the person remote access to your computer.
This scam has gone viral, says the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and the dramatic increase means the scam is working.
I’m rarely at home, but I got one of these “Microsoft” calls the very same day my article appeared. I just laughed and hung up.
The second fraud usually starts with an email. Your friends or family members are in a jam in a foreign country and need you to send money right away to get home. If you fall for the emergency scam, as it’s called, you wire funds by Western Union or MoneyGram to a fraudster and never get it back again.
There are other traps for the unwary. Just last week, I heard from someone who ordered tickets online and fell into the hands of a reseller, who charged many times more than the box office rate. I also heard from someone who was buying a computer on Craigslist and fell for the overpayment scam.
Reading the fine print is always tricky — and even more so when the terms and conditions appear online in the midst of a transaction you hope to complete quickly. There’s a temptation to click “I agree” without thinking.
You have to pay attention to your computer, network and browsing. Do you have anti-virus software that is up to date? Do you have a firewall? Are your passwords strong enough and changed often enough? Can you verify that an email from someone you know actually comes from someone you know?
Canada has no anti-spam law yet, unlike other countries, despite watching the problem develop for years. A federal law was passed in late 2010, Bill C-28, and draft regulations are being circulated for comment. But it’s not in force yet.
Meanwhile, spam is moving to new platforms, such as social networking sites, says a report by the Public Interest Advocacy Group. What’s better than a product or service that comes highly recommended by a Facebook friend?
“A significant number of Canadians are ignorant of the risk posed by spam, even those who consider themselves savvy computer and Internet users,” says PIAC.
“Consumers appear aware vaguely of their role in spam propagation and perhaps in denial regarding it.”
You may say, “But I’m not a techie,” when told you have a role in blocking fraudulent messages and fighting off services you don’t want. That’s not a good excuse.
If you use a computer, you have to to keep yourself — and your friends and family — safe from harm. This means you become a techie and shore up your defenses against fraud. You also question everything you see online and take nothing on faith.
There are many shysters lurking online trying to part you with your money, preying on your deepest fears and using every trick in the book to gain your trust.
Check out a few cautionary stories below.