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How to Avoid Internet Scams and Thieves


A year or two ago, my brother-in-law's email account was stolen and used to ask his friends for money. Three years ago, my mother bought a mattress online, despite my warning, and had a very difficult time actually getting what she paid for. I believe it was only because she called her bank soon afterwards that she was able to get the bank to take action. These are just two of a vast number of anecdotes about scams that occur on the internet every day. Some other common scams are facebook impersonations, online dating scams, fake antivirus software, fake products, work-at-home scams, fake software updates, malware, and ransom-ware. The ease with which scammers can communicate over long distances, even across national boarders, makes the conman's or con-woman's job all that much easier. But, regardless of the type of scam, there are things you can do to protect yourself.

First, understand the recourses you have in the event of an attempted scam. For example, if you are buying something from Ebay or Amazon, understand their policies about what assistance they will give you if you don't get exactly what you've paid for. Amazon's A-to-Z Guarantee is that Amazon will pay for your return of an item to a seller if it is defective or not as advertised and refund your money up to $2500. Ebay gives you less of a protection, but it will contact the seller and try resolve the problem if you have been unsuccessful at doing so.

Always know what assurances your bank gives when you use their credit card. Consumer protection laws protect credit card holders, and most banks are reasonable about complying with them, if you follow the rules. If the seller doesn't delivers the product that you purchased with a credit card, and you have followed the rules, the bank is legally obligated to refund your money, minus $50. If you don't follow the rules, you have no guarantee. For example, you must get at least a verbal confirmation of the expected delivery date from the seller. If you don't, the bank may not get involved for months, if ever. You usually have 45 days to report the incident to the bank. Scammers often try to string customers along with vague promises until the deadline passes to prevent the bank from getting involved. This happened in my mother's case. She called the seller several times during working hours and no one answered. So, she left messages. It wasn't until the third message that someone finally returned her call and claimed that it was out of their hands, because the order had been sent to the factory already. When she called the factory, they said they couldn't give her any information and that she had to deal with the seller. An unanswered telephone is a big red flag. No reputable seller does not answer his phone during working hours and does not return calls for days.

In cases that don't include a monetary transaction involving a credit card, you may have fewer assurances. For example, it is very difficult to actually talk to someone at Google if your gmail account is stolen. This can be a serious problem if you have used your Gmail account password as your password on other accounts or used your Gmail account as a source of authentication for other accounts. Scammers can then use your Gmail account to access your other accounts. The best thing to do here is to prevent your email account from being stolen in the first place. You can do this by using a strong password and a secure second authentication factor. Since we know that scammers have successfully conned telephone companies into allowing customer's phone numbers to be high-jacked, my recommendation is that you not use your phone as a second authentication factor. Gmail is one of the few email providers that allows you to use a U2F key as a second authentication factor. You can get one on Amazon for little money, and in my opinion it is well worth it for the added piece of mind it gives you.

Let me get up on my soapbox for a minute about passwords. We're hearing these days that passwords have become obsolete. I think these statements are very misleading. By far the major reason that this is being said is that consumers are not using strong enough passwords. We're told that no matter what you do to protect your passwords, thieves can still steal password lists from the computer networks of the companies that provide your accounts. While this is true, there are two reasons that these password lists are of any value to thieves. The first is that a few companies are severely negligent in their security practices regarding the storage of passwords. In my opinion, we need stronger laws to protect us from companies that don't care enough about their customers to enact basic security precautions. However, the major reason password lists are of any value to thieves is that most users don't use strong enough passwords. If you don't know how to make a strong password, you can read about it here. There are many options for keeping passwords safe. Read about them and pick one. The vast majority of accounts are stolen, because users are just too lazy to use and protect their strong passwords. Just accept that you need to do this, and do it.

Another thing I recommend is that when you open an online account, do not provide a thief with an easy way of bypassing your password using answers to "security" questions. Would you buy a strong, solid oak front door for your home with hinges that break away in case you forget your key? Of course not! So don't use your pet's name or the city of your birth as answers to security questions that totally bypass your strong password. If you are forced to supply answers to security questions, answer with long strings of gibberish. Your pet's name is kjdfDlk489dj&dj383. You were born in h59803$(;/kdueG74n. Make the long stings of gibberish even longer and stronger than your actual password.

Now getting back to scams. As with any scam, internet scams rely on the gullibility and lack of knowledge of the intended victim. Know as much as you can about both the seller and the product. These days, you have plenty of online resources for checking out the sellers of products you are considering purchasing. Use these resources. If you can't find enough information about a seller, buy from someone else! This applies not only to sellers but also to products. Never, ever, ever buy a computer or any expensive piece of electronics until your have read multiple reviews by professionals and then read actual owners' opinions. One great source of information from owners is Amazon. This will save you at least 75% of the headaches that you will have in buying electronics online.

Another good rule to follow in avoiding scams is to never respond to unsolicited offers to buy anything. At least not until you have throughly checked out both the seller and the product. And don't rely on the seller's word for anything. Find the information you need from some other source. And make absolutely sure that the seller is who he claims to be. These rules apply especially to solicitations by phone or email. It also applies to pop-up messages that appear when you enter a website. Don't take the website's word when it says your antivirus software is out of date or when it says that you need to update your browser. If your browser is out of date, don't follow the link provided by the website. Go to the correct site to update it, or don't update it, and go to a different website. One day I should write an article (i.e. a rant) about how much anger I feel toward websites that try to force me to use specific software on my computer.

Related Articles:

How to Avoid being Tracked and Spied-On while Online

Why You Probably shouldn't Bank Online

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