Internet fraud is when scammers use the internet to steal personal information in order to carry out identity theft and cheat people of their money. These scams can take place through email, untrustworthy websites, fake auctions, and social networking websites, including dating sites and Facebook. Millions of people fall victim to these scammers every year. Do you know how to protect yourself and avoid scams online? Learn how to spot red flags online and spot common scams and get familiar with the warning signs of internet fraud, phishing, and other online scams, so that you can protect your personal information from thieves.

How to Avoid Online Scams

  1. Never trade outside of an auctions site. Reputable websites like Ebay have strict policies and protections in place to help ensure customers are not scammed. Stick with the rules and avoid paying for an item outside of the auctions site where a scam is more likely to happen.
  2. Check a seller’s reviews. Conduct an online search for any private seller or company you plan to do business with. On auction or e-commerce websites, a seller’s star rating, history, and feedback will give you a good indication of the seller’s trustworthiness. Search the legitimacy of a business by typing the company name into a search engine like Google and scan for any negative results and reviews.
  3. Meet in person and use cash when dealing with online classified websites. Classified websites like Craigslist allow sellers and potential buyers to negotiate on a price and make a deal on their own terms. Avoid being the victim of classified scams by metting in a public place and seeing items in person to confirm their legitimacy, and by saying no to checks which have the potential to bounce.
  4. Don’t visit unsecure websites. A secure website is free from malware and viruses, which are intended to damage or disable computers, and encrypts all data going through it to protect your personal, financial or other confidential information from being compromised. To check that a website is secure, the URL in the address bar of your internet browser should start with “https://” and there should be a padlock symbol next to it with the word “secure.”
  5. Check the website privacy policy. A secure website should have a privacy policy that discloses how the business gathers, uses, discloses, and manages a customer’s data, and explains what security measures are taken to make sure your private data is safe.
  6. Confirm contact information. A website without contact information means that in the event of a problem, you will have no one to talk to. If you’re not familiar with the business, talk to a live person by calling the telephone number and verify the business and contact details.
  7. No privacy or returns policy. This is a sign that the website may be illegitimate.
  8. PIN number. Do not conduct business with this company, if they ask for your bank PIN number at the checkout page. No website should ever ask for this.
  9. Social networking and online dating. Romance scams are on the rise and victims are predominantly older widowed and divorced women. If someone reaches out to you online and that individual doesn’t have a profile photo, or it is grainy, out-of-focus, or outdated, it’s a good sign that the person probably has something to hide. Even with a clear photo, take precautions and investigate whether the image is legit. Be cautious of anyone online that discloses too much information about themselves, has an inappropriate screen name, and can’t easily access a web cam to talk to you. It’s better to be safe than sorry when communicating with individuals you don’t know online.

How to Avoid Email Scams

  1. Don’t click on suspect links. “Phishing” emails try to look like a legitimate enterprise you may recognize, such as your bank, but they’re actually scammers trying to get personal information from you. The email may ask you to “click here” to verify your information. However, the link can actually direct you to a fake, or “spoofed” website to collect your personal details. Most organizations will never use email to request confidential personal information. Therefore, be wary of any email message that asks you to enter or verify personal information through a website or by replying to the message itself.
  2. Contact the company if you’re unsure. Sometimes a legitimate company will reach out to you about needing certain personal information. In this case, call the company’s telephone number from their website or your address book (not from the email) and verify the request with the customer service representative.
  3. Don’t open unfamiliar attachments. Do not open an email attachment from someone you don’t recognize. If you receive an attachment from an email address you do recognize, but without a message, or the message itself seems “off,” contact the sender to confirm if they sent the attachment. A malicious attachment can contain a virus or provide an intruder with remote access to your computer.
  4. Multiple recipients. Be wary of an email that contains dozens of other email addresses in the “to” field. This is a good sign the email is phishing for information from anyone unwary enough to respond.
  5. Incorrect spelling and grammar. Never reply to information requests coupled with odd grammar and spelling, typos, and grammatical errors, repeating words, and paragraphs. This is usually a sign of fraud.
  6. Strange requests. Do not respond to anyone asking you to wire them money. Scammers may claim to be from royalty and write that their request is urgent, but it’s really what is called an “advance-fee” scam. This scam typically involves promising a significant sum of money in return for a small up-front payment. But if the payment is made, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees or disappears.
  7. Promises. Don’t believe false promises and sure-fire guarantees. Scammers try to dupe people into giving them money for things like magic weight loss drugs that don’t work and work-from-home opportunities that don’t exist.
  8. Lotteries. A lottery scam will claim, “You have won!” a large sum of money in a lottery. Don’t respond if you never entered the lottery in question or if you are required to submit personal information or pay a fee to collect your “winnings.”

If you believe you’ve been a victim of internet fraud or cybercrime, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) or by using the FBI’s online tips form. Visit the Federal Trade Commission website to stay up-to-date on the latest scam alerts.