February 12, 2016 in Smart Money

How fraudsters use Internet scams, phone scams and email scams to steal your money

You’re surfing the Internet and come across a link to an interesting story on a website you’ve never before visited. You click and — bingo! Faster than you can say “uh oh” you’ve downloaded malware to your computer.

That’s called a “click bait” scam. The scammer entices you to click on the link by cloaking it in an article or headline that’s sure to draw you in: a hot current story in the news, some particularly salacious piece of celebrity gossip or maybe a too-cute video that the poster breathlessly claims will make your jaw drop or bring you to tears.

After actor Robin Williams’ death, the Internet was flooded with malware masquerading as legitimate information about the actor. Much of it was click bait.

How can you avoid succumbing to scams like this? Bankrate takes a look at some of the most popular Internet scams, phone scams and other cons currently circulating. Knowledge is power. Read on.

Now that you know what a click bait scam is, you need to learn how to avoid falling for one. The Better Business Bureau advises that if the post originates on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms, that’s who you should contact to report it.

Anytime you see words designed to pique your interest, be suspicious. Is a video of a porpoise really going to make your jaw drop? Probably not. So skip video links that promise to amaze you. If there’s a link you simply can’t resist, hover your cursor over it to see where it actually leads. If the link’s not going to take you where you expect it to, don’t click it. Even better, if you simply have to experience that jaw-dropping moment, use a search engine to find it.

Remember to check out those wanting to “friend” you on Facebook. Don’t approve them unless you have a common link. And if you should receive a request from someone you are already friends with, first, don’t agree to the connection and then, let your friend know. Chances are the second account is a phony, designed to extract information.

Dave Edwards, president of Heron Financial Group, says that there’s no such thing as privacy anymore. “Everyone is on the radar.” So, when a call alleges there’s a warrant for your arrest, remember the people behind this hoax are using information they probably culled from your social media accounts and other Internet postings.

Maybe the bogus charge is a white collar crime or missed jury duty. No matter, the idea’s scary and jail isn’t your idea of a weekend vacation. And this time you’re lucky: The “official” who called can fix this if you send him money in the form of a negotiable instrument, like a Moneygram or wire transfer.

The truth is that law enforcement officers execute warrants and make arrests — and they don’t do it over the phone or via email.

Ask your caller for his name and agency. Tell him you’ll call him back, then hang up, look up the agency’s number and return the call. Chances are you’ll find it’s bogus, just like the phony arrest charge.

The popularity of reality television shows and growth of regional productions make local casting calls very appealing to those with stars in their eyes. But many of the “casting calls” are little more than con games, set up to bilk fame and fortune hopefuls out of their money.

Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano of IDTheftSecurity.com says every scam requires a certain amount of gullibility on the part of the victims. “Social engineering schemes are often very effective on the naïve,” says Siciliano.

Legitimate modeling agencies and talent development professionals don’t:

Most reality shows don’t work with agents. So, before you pony up for that part or pay big bucks to a modeling agency’s photographer for a pricey portfolio, research the company.

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quoted by several news outlets as saying that the online juggernaut may be considering a different way to express an opinion other than “like,” scammers jumped on the opportunity to sucker people.

This fraud has many iterations, according to online security experts, but the most common:

One cyber security site, Sophos, followed the directions in a Facebook dislike scheme and discovered those who downloaded the fake button were redirected to dicey get-rich-quick schemes. Adam Levin, Chairman of IDT911, warns that when scammers are in first contact, “It’s the only time (in a potential con) you’re in complete control.”

Ignore the online bait to avoid getting hurt by Internet scams.

No one likes to hear from telemarketers or robo-callers. They’re annoying. When it first debuted, millions signed up for the federal Do Not Call Registry. Registration took only a few minutes and lasted for years. Now, countless scams have sprung up around Do Not Call. Here are the most popular ones, according to the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General:

Maybe you’ve had a run of bad luck. Your credit’s in the toilet and your car needs replacing. How do you get around that credit ding to qualify for a car loan that won’t cost you double-digit interest rates? Some unscrupulous types would suggest you can fix bad credit by following their (pricey) advice.

The FTC says credit repair scams usually encourage customers to lie on credit applications or obtain an EIN to use in place of a Social Security number. An EIN is a business tax identification number and is available directly from the IRS for free, but don’t use one in place of your Social unless you run a legitimate business.

Some companies advise clients to assume fake Social Security numbers. That’s both illegal and prosecutable. And telling you to lie or misrepresent your credit history — say, by giving false information — will come back to bite you.

Many of these companies originate abroad. “Very few of the bad guys live in the U.S.,” says Dave Edwards of Heron Financial Group, who points out that the FBI’s Top 10 cyber criminals are all foreign, making them impossible to prosecute.

You can buy apps or use online sites that allow you to send harmless fake text messages. But, as it turns out, those messages can be very harmful — both to your phone and to those targeted by these fake message phone scams. Not only are you handing over your contact list, but these programs can hijack your pricey iPhone. Never, ever download anything without due diligence on your part.

While it’s one thing to prank a friend, it’s another entirely to send phony text messages to disaster victims’ families. In 2014, when a crowded South Korean ferry carrying a group of schoolchildren sank, the press reported that some of those trapped inside the sinking vessel had sent poignant messages to their families. Later examinations of phone records showed that no such messages were ever sent by the victims. The, “I love you” texts were nothing but cruel hoaxes.

Hurting people for fun is neither fun, nor funny, for that matter.

How can free be bad? Answer: when it really isn’t free.

Con artists often prey on those scrambling to come up with money for school, which at the college level is pricey. Always on the lookout for an extra dollar or two, many students comb the Internet searching for grants and scholarships. That’s the cue for shady characters to get involved.

How can you separate the dishonest from the real opportunities? First, if they try to charge you at any stage of the game, then it’s a con. If they ask for proprietary information (such as your account number), then it’s a con. If they disappear after you send them money, then it’s definitely a con.

Get around the scammers by doing your own legwork. Search legitimate sites for opportunities and tips, such as websites of real experts in financing student educations.

If you were buying a blender, you’d search the reviews. Do the same with any site that offers to help with grants or scholarships. If you find anything negative or nothing at all (indicating a site that was just created), then close the window.

The best way to scamproof your life is to double- and triple-check everything you do online. Keep your private information just that — private. And remember to never share personal information with strangers, especially those who promise outlandish results in return. You didn’t really inherit millions from someone you’ve never heard of or win the Irish lottery you didn’t even enter.

As Tony Perez, CEO of Netlok puts it, “We need to educate … people that it is in their best interest to protect their privacy by improving their online behavior.” Perez suggests we limit the information we post on social media, not load important personal and financial documents on our computers and invest in good computer protection software.

That’s how to avoid Internet scams, phone scams and email scams.

Dial back the excitement, put everything in perspective and remember the one fact that never, ever changes: If it seems to be too good to be true, then it is. If you adopt that as your motto, you’ll hold onto your money and your privacy whole lot longer.

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