Cybernaut 

E-mail scammers

You have to hand it to all the e-mail fraud artists out there – they’re getting better. You used to be able to spot a fraud a mile away because of the poor grammar, spelling errors, and overly anxious attempts to get you to click on strange Web sites and enter your personal information.

One of the e-mail scams to come my way in the past week, although obviously fake, showed a level of professionalism I haven’t seen before. At last I understood why Internet fraud is up 60 per cent this year, costing gullible people millions of dollars each and every year.

There are also several "phishing" scams going around where people are asked to visit Web sites to update their personal information. These sites appear legitimate with all the proper logos, legal small print, "secure connection" mumbo jumbo, and other official looking window-dressing, and often they already seem to know a lot about you – name, address, phone number – but they’re really just scams to get your social insurance number, credit card number, and other important information.

Here are a few hints to help you determine what’s real and what isn’t:

First of all, nobody gives money away. If you didn’t enter a lottery, you sure as hell didn’t win one.

Secondly, nobody needs your credit number because none of the legitimate companies out there that might already have your most personal information would never, ever lose it. They have back-ups and back-ups for their back-ups. They are also bound by law to keep things in triplicate, and could lose their business licenses – and the confidence of their customers – if they don’t comply.

Thirdly, there will be no need to update your user name or password to access certain sites, unless of course you’ve forgotten them. If that’s the case, the company won’t know until you directly contact them to ask for help.

Fourthly, you can usually do all the updating you need by visiting a company’s legitimate Web site and signing in. If you must follow an e-mail link to get there, check the address – if it’s not clearly an extension of a legitimate site then it could be a spoof.

Lastly, most legitimate companies are in the customer service business, and their correspondence always includes e-mail addresses, phone numbers, 1-800 numbers, fax numbers, etc. Without all of these things, any e-mail should be considered suspect, whatever the source.

If you’re still unsure, you might want to check in with the experts – unless you’re the very first person to receive a fraudulent e-mail request, chances are it will already be posted online at one of these Web sites: Internet Fraud Complaint Centre (FBI and National White Collar Crime Center) at www1.ifccfbi.gov/index.asp; the National Consumers League’s fraud centre at www.fraud.org; ScamBusters at www.scambusters.org and Internet Fraud Watch at www.nclnet.org.

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