The Internet offers a global marketplace for consumers and businesses. However, criminals also recognize the potential of cyberspace. The same scams that have reached us by telephone and in our mailbox can now be found on the World Wide Web and in email. Organizations such as the National Fraud Information Center have emerged to help people recognize shady schemes in order to prevent further victims.
According to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI, the number of fraud victims is in the hundreds of thousands and total dollars lost are in the hundreds of millions, and rising at an exponential rate. A search on Google for "internet fraud" results in over 3,200,000 listings at the time of this writing!
It is difficult sometimes to tell the difference between reputable online sellers and criminals who use the Internet to separate people from their money. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the danger signs of fraud. If you are a victim of Internet fraud, it is important to file a complaint with the IFCC at http://www.ifccfbi.gov quickly so that law enforcement agencies can quickly shut down the fraudulent operations.
· Know whom you're dealing with. If the seller or charity is unfamiliar, check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org). Search the Federal Trade Commission website (http://www.ftc.gov) for the company or organization that you are considering doing business with. Some Web sites have feedback forums, which can provide useful information about other people's experiences with particular sellers. Get the physical address and phone number (and actually make a call before you give them money-to make sure that the phone number is correct) in case there is a problem later.
· Guard your personal information. Make sure that any website that requires sensitive information is encrypted. An encrypted website usually has a yellow padlock symbol somewhere on the page, typically at the bottom. Don't provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.
· Pay the safest way. Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never receive your order, or if the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly.
· Look for information about how complaints are handled. It can be difficult to resolve complaints, especially if the seller or charity is located in another country. Look on their website for information about programs that require standards for reliability and assistance in handling disputes with which the company or organization participates.
· Be aware that an organization without complaints is not a guarantee. Fraudulent operators set up shop and close down quickly, so the fact that nobody has made a complaint doesn't mean the seller or charity is legitimate. You still need to look for other danger signs of fraud.
· Understand the offer. A legitimate seller will give you all the details about the products or services, the total price, the refund and cancellation policies, the terms of any warranty, and the delivery time.
· Think twice before entering contests operated by unfamiliar companies. Fraudulent marketers sometimes use contest entry forms to identify potential victims.
· Be cautious about unsolicited emails. They are often fraudulent. Recent legislation requires all marketing emails to include a working link that enables the recipient to be excluded from future mailings.
· Beware of imposters. Someone might send you an email pretending to be connected with a business or charity. Others may create a website that looks just like that of a well-known company or charitable organization. If you're not sure that you're dealing with the real thing, find another way to contact the legitimate business or charity.
· Beware of "dangerous downloads." In downloading programs to see pictures, hear music, play games, etc., you could download a virus that wipes out your computer files or connects your modem to a foreign telephone number, resulting in expensive phone charges. Only download programs from websites you know and trust. Read all user agreements carefully.
Eric Buck is an established ezine publisher and direct marketer who specializes in helping ordinary people make extraordinary money working from home on the internet. Sign up for the Home Business Tips newsletter at http://www.homecashincome.com