Escrow Services Scams and Fake College Degrees:

Protect yourself from fraudulent escrow services, fake college degrees, online romance scams, and more:Internet ScamBusters #58

First, we’d like to wish you a very happy New Year. We hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

We have some very important info for you this month. We’ve got news about avoiding fraudulent escrow companies when buying expensive items through online auctions, fake college degrees and how to spot them, how to fight back if you’ve been scammed on the Internet, more on identity theft, online dating as a source for spammers, and a cybercrime glossary.

OK, let’s get started…

Fraudulent Escrow Services Leave Buyers In the Lurch

If you buy items at auction through eBay or other online auction services, you’ll want to pay attention to this one.

For expensive goods (say, over $1,000), many auctioneers and bidders use an ‘escrow’ system. Escrow means that the winning bidder sends the cash to a neutral third party (an escrow company) to be held, usually until the goods are shipped and the bidder is satisfied with their condition.

The benefit is that the escrow company is supposed to be a neutral party to the transaction, a middleman, that protects both the auctioneer and the bidder in case something goes wrong. Of course, there is a charge for this service.

Well, some folks are taking advantage of this system to bilk bidders out of thousands of dollars.

It’s scarily simple: the scammers, working in cahoots with the auctioneer, set up a phony escrow company, complete with its own Web site. When you ‘place the money in escrow,’ you’re just sending it to scammers, who then use stalling tactics to explain why the auction hasn’t cleared escrow. Eventually they fold their tents and flee, and you’re left thousands of dollars poorer and with no recourse.

Here are some tips to avoid getting scammed by this fake escrow scheme:

1. Use an escrow service recommended by the online auction site (for example, eBay recommends

2. If the seller wants you to use a specific escrow company, ask why. Be sure to check it out carefully.

3. If anything seems fishy, find another escrow company.

More information about fraudulent escrow and auctions:

eBay Members Scammed by Fraudulent Escrow Sites:


Tech TV – New Twist on Auction Fraud:


Fake College Degrees Put You At Risk

You probably remember seeing the tiny classified ads in the back of magazines: Get a college degree now, based on your ‘life experience’ or other credentials!

Of course, this was just a scheme where you paid some ‘degree mill’ money to get a pretty printed certificate saying that you’d graduated from a non-existent institution, or an institution that just exists to give out diplomas to anyone with a credit card.

Well, times have changed, but the scam hasn’t — it’s just become more high-tech. Many sites on the Internet offer to give you a college diploma for cash. Some are so brazen that they’re called Fake Degrees or Fake Diplomas. So you know you’re not getting a high-quality education.

Why, then, are you at risk? Well, if you’re hiring employees, you want to make sure their credentials are real and that they’re up to the task.

And if you’re going to see a lawyer, doctor, or other professional, it’s vital that they be certified from a real educational institution. Otherwise, you could be in for trouble.

If you have any doubts as to whether someone’s diploma is legitimate, check out the U.S. Network for Education Information’s Web site at:


Sometimes, doing a search on the ‘college’ or ‘university’ name on will also turn up fraudulent institutions.

If You’ve Been Scammed On the Internet, Fight Back!

A lot of people who’ve been scammed or swindled feel too embarrassed to report that they’ve been ripped off.

Often, they feel that if they had just been smarter, they would have avoided being scammed, and they keep silent for fear of being judged.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Smart people get scammed too (take a look at the recent Enron and WorldCom scandals). That’s also one of the reasons we’re so public when we get scammed — we want you to realize that even the creators of Internet ScamBusters get taken now and then!

Plus, criminals spend all their time thinking up schemes and illegal plans — there’s a reason they call it the ‘criminal mind.’

It’s important to be vigilant, but it’s also important to report being scammed if it happens to you. You may be able to get all or some of your money back, and at the least, you may prevent others from being scammed in the future.

If you’ve been scammed on the Internet, your first stop should be the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC):


The IFCC is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. You can file a complaint and view fraud tips and warnings.

TechTV’s Cybercrime Center also has a great list of agencies and resources you can use to report your problem in more depth, and find out what the government can do and is doing to stop cyber fraud:


More Resources on Identity Theft

You may have heard this on the news right after we published our last issue: federal prosecutors busted what’s been called the largest identity theft fraud ring in history:


Over two years, thousands of people were bilked out of millions of dollars. In today’s networked electronic age, you’ve got to be alert to the problem, and you have to take steps to protect yourself.

Just by knowing your name, address, and some other bits of information, swindlers can impersonate you electronically and make purchases, withdraw money, and wreak havoc on your credit rating.

The U.S. government has put together a good Web site to teach you what identity theft is, how to protect yourself against it, and how to report it at:


If you are a TriWest HealthCare Alliance beneficiary, be sure to visit this page immediately.

And, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, be sure to file a complaint with the FTC, who can investigate fraud. File your complaint at:


Online Romance Can Lead to Spam

This one’s just sad.

Many people use the Internet to find love and romance, using online personals and matchmaking sites. Now, spammers have latched onto this, and instead of finding the love of your life, you may be giving up your email address to those who fill your inbox with junk.

Here’s what we’ve heard: You may get an email from a site claiming to hook up shy people with the subjects of their crushes. Someone likes you! Now all you have to do is go to the Web site, enter your email address (and in some cases, the addresses of your friends), and you’ll find out who’s got that crush on you.

Well, you’ve guessed it. This type of Web site seems to be a front for spammers who are collecting email addresses for their spam lists. A couple of people who did this with email addresses they created just to test this *immediately* started getting spammed as soon as they entered the information on the so-called ‘crush site.’

Many crush sites seem to be legitimate — but some are not. Be careful before you give your email address.

The moral of the story? Don’t let the promise of a love-smitten admirer cause you to give up your email address. Remember, if they’re really interested in you, they’ll contact you themselves!

From Salon.Com Magazine: “The Bot That Loved Me”:


A Glossary of Cybercrime

Not sure what the difference between a hacker and a cracker is, or a ‘white hat’ and a ‘black hat’? Confused by some of the jargon or high-tech terms in articles about Internet fraud?

Take a look at the excellent Cybercrime Glossary at:


Remember, forewarned is forearmed.