Internet Scams: How to Protect Yourself

15 tips to avoid getting taken by Internet scams:
Internet ScamBusters #10

Internet ScamBusters™
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
Anniversary Issue #10

Today is our one year anniversary. We welcome all our new subscribers (subscriptions have almost tripled in the past month!) and appreciate all of the wonderful comments we’ve received this year about Internet ScamBusters. We look forward to a great second year helping to you avoid getting taken by Internet scams, misinformation and hype.

In this issue, we’ll share 15 tips that can help you evaluate whether a company or offer is legitimate. Then we’ll discuss another variant to the "scambusting" scam which focuses on companies who charge fees to serve as fraud watchdogs on the Internet. There have been some obvious abuses in this area which you can easily avoid.

15 Tips To Avoid Getting
Taken By Internet Scams:

  1. Always use common sense. If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t legitimate, you’re probably right.

  2. Make sure the company has a phone number and physical address. Call the company back. Check with Information to see if the phone number actually belongs to that company.
  3. Always ask for references and check them carefully. A reputable company will be pleased to send you additional information and give you as many references from satisfied customers as you want.
  4. Ask on-line promoters where their company is incorporated. If you’re suspicious, call that state’s secretary of state and ask if the company is incorporated with them and if it has a current annual report on file.
  5. Check with the state’s Attorney General’s Office to see if the company has a received a series of complaints.
  6. Check with the National Fraud Information Center at: www.fraud.org or 1-800-876-7060. NFIC provides lots of valuable resources about telephone, mail, and online scams.
  7. Always make sure that you get a strong guarantee. Ask the company what will happen if you want to return the product or service. You might even ask for references of people who have returned the product and received refunds.
  8. Avoid falling for high pressure sales tactics. Scamsters always want your money right now. They don’t want to give you time to think about your decision. If you are pressured to decide right now, decide "no."
  9. Pay by credit card. That gives you recourse if you have a problem. If you pay by credit card and have a problem, you can call your bank and do a "charge back." What that means is that you have the credit card company "charge back" your purchase to the vendor and give you a credit. But do be careful giving out your credit card number (especially by email).
  10. Don’t respond to bulk emails. Be skeptical of offers that use LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS and punctuation!!! Emails that shout at you are often bogus, such as "Discover how you can make BIG $$$$$ MONEY in NO TIME AT ALL!!!!!
  11. Always print a hard copy of any on-line offer that you’re considering. Make sure you keep the email address, Internet address (URL), and any other information, as well as the date and time that you saw the offer. Save this information in case you need it later.
  12. Beware of promoters who try to sell things using an anonymous email address such as anon12345@anon.company.com, user@domain.com or a post office box.
  13. Don’t participate in a pyramid scheme. If you are asked to send money to ten people, who each send money to ten other people, who then each send money to ten more people, etc., this is an illegal pyramid scheme. Don’t do it.
  14. If you’re told that you have won a prize, be skeptical. If you are told you have won a prize and have to pay money, always refuse the prize.
  15. Subscribe to Internet ScamBusters! :-)

SCAM: The "Scambusting" Scam

We thought it was appropriate to alert you to this scam in our Anniversary issue. As you probably know, Internet ScamBusters was the first publication to focus on Internet scams. During the past year, there have been many clones, other publications, and services that now also warn about Internet scams. Some of these publications are excellent — we have (and will continue to) recommend these to you.

But unfortunately, not all of these publications and services are legitimate. Just because a company publishes information about scams does not necessarily mean they themselves are honest. Some scamsters have started publicizing scam information as a way to enhance their own credibility.

We always welcome the question: "How do we know that *you’re* honest?" It shows our subscribers have a healthy dose of skepticism, which will serve them well.

And we’d like to thank Dana Blankenhorn for naming the "Scambusting" scam.

SCAM: Fraud Watchdogs on the Internet

There are several companies that have used the Better Business Bureau (BBB) model and have set themselves up as fraud watchdogs on the Internet. Some of these companies are legitimate. However, at least two are not.

Basically, the concept is that these companies are established to "promote ethical business practices worldwide and to increase consumer and corporate confidence in purchasing products and services on the Internet." They have a database of complaints which consumers can search if they want to know if a company is legitimate.

Businesses can become members (and support ethical Internet business practices) for an annual fee.

Here are some of the problems with these Fraud Watchdogs: At least two of these companies send bulk emails to virtually all companies with new listings. Here is a sample email we received (the name has been changed):

Hello,

We visited your site because we noticed a few consumers inquiring about your company here at the Fraudwatchdawg Commerce Bureau. Your site looks great!

The Fraudwatchdawg Commerce Bureau (http://www.fraudwatchdawg.com) provides free consumer services to the public. We give businesses and consumers a way to inquire about a company before doing business with them.

If you go to our site and enter your company name in the search form you will see what we report to the public on an inquiry of a company like yours that has no complaints.

Good Luck in 1996!

Fred Watchdawg President

This email says that there have been consumer inquiries about our company. Yet, everyone gets the same email. Some companies who have received this email have not yet received any inquiries from potential customers, nor has fraudwatchdawg.com visited their site (they checked their site logs).

The fact that these companies question the integrity of your Web site and use unethical means of building their base of subscribers is unacceptable.

Recommendations: If you receive an email from some organization asking you to join based on consumer inquiries:

  1. Ask for a transcript of these inquiries regarding your site. We doubt you’ll get a reply.

  2. Don’t spend the $50 to $200+ to register. It’s a waste of money. You can easily prosper without the "benefits" of these services.