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Watch Out For These Top Internet Scams

Author: Jacob Harris

Internet scams are constantly evolving. Much of the $190 billion raked in each year by credit card fraud comes from online schemes. As long as there are gullible heartstrings to tug, con artists around the world are targeting a computer near you.

So, what should you look out for when it comes to these things? This article outlines today's most common Internet scams, and what you can do to safeguard your personal information and wallet.

1. The 419 (Advance Fee) Scam

The Scam: The 419, or Nigerian Scam, is one of the most common scams on the Internet, one you may have already seen in your own inbox. This fraudulent scheme, named after the article of Nigerian Criminal Code that outlaws fraud, drew $12.7 billion into the pockets of fraudsters in 2013.

The scammer usually claims to be a member of a wealthy Nigerian or other West African family, reaching out to you personally after the death of a loved one. He or she seeks to relocate a large fortune out of the country for safekeeping purposes and into your bank account. The catch? You must submit small payments for fees in return for a large chunk of their cash cache.

What to Do: You should not respond to these requests, and, furthermore, you should never volunteer your bank details.

2. You've Been Pre-Approved!

The Scam: You receive a letter or an e-mail declaring that you have been pre-approved for either a credit card or bank loan. Those experiencing financial strain may fall victim to this scam, which promises instant approval and appealing credit limits. The catch? You must pay a fee upfront and at the time of sign-up.

What to Do: Keep in mind that though credit card companies do charge annual fees, you will never be asked to pay them at sign-up. Accredited banks won't know your credit situation and pre-approve you unsolicited.

3. The Phishing Scam

The Scam: You receive an e-mail from a seemingly familiar enterprise you deem legitimate such as your bank, university or a retailer you frequent. The message directs you to a site—usually to verify personal information such as e-mail addresses and passwords— that then steals your information and exposes your computer to attack by scammers. Phishing scams are some of the most common out there. It is widely believed the Target (TGT) data breach, which reached millions of victims, started with a phishing e-mail scam.

What to Do: You should never click the links provided in suspicious e-mails. Doing so will make your computer and personal information vulnerable to viruses and malware. Again, though the sender may seem legitimate – which is exactly what the scammer wants you to believe – no reputable institution will ask for your password or other key personal information online.

4. Disaster Relief Scams

The Scam: When disaster strikes, so do fraudsters. Hiding behind the guise of an actual aid organization, scammers will use a tragedy or natural disaster to con you out of your money. By thinking you're donating to an emergency relief fund, you unwittingly provide credit card or other e-payment information.

What to Do: Only give to established, legitimate organizations. Visit or to verify the validity of the charitable organization in question.

5. Travel Scams

The Scam: Scammers have added social media to their bag of tricks. By posting enticing photos on sites like Pinterest, Twitter (TWTR) or Facebook (FB) subsidiary Instagram, scammers have been known to dupe even the savviest of travelers. Upon clicking the image—which lures clicks through the promise of a free trip or plane tickets— you will be prompted to either complete a survey rife with personal information or open your computer up to secretly malicious software.

What to Do: Make sure the social media page you're on is an accredited account. All major airlines and travel sites will have their social media handles on their respective webpages. Don't be fooled by a Twitter account that appears to be that of a major airline like JetBlue (JBLU).

6. Debt Relief Scams

The Scam: Individuals who are down on their luck can easily fall for an e-mail claiming to relieve their debt. This scam makes the false promise of collaborating with creditors to either consolidate or settle debts. All you need to do? Pay an up-front fee for the services.

What to Do: As with the credit card scam seen earlier, you should never volunteer your personal financial information to facilitate an up-front fee. This is especially dangerous if you're already in a dire financial situation.

7. Lottery Scam

The Scam: Congratulations! You've won the lottery or some other large amount of money! Except you haven't. This bogus e-mail comes to you out-of-the-blue—usually claiming to be a part of an international sweepstake—stressing you've won big and that you just need to send over a processing fee or get in touch with someone who can process your winnings.

What to Do: Unless you have entered some legitimate lottery, chances are you haven't won the jackpot. When you win the lottery, you contact the appropriate retailer—not the other way around.

8. Fake Check/Money Transfer Scams

The Scam: You list something on an auction-based website, and the winning bidder offers to pay you more than the offered purchase price via cashier's, corporate or personal check. Upon receiving the scammer's counterfeit check, you are conned into sending the difference back through bank wire. Then you have to pay the bank back in full once the fake check bounces.

What to Do: Never accept payment for more than your selling price. Additionally, you should opt for a secure form of e-payment, such as eBay's (EBAY) PayPal or Google (GOOG) Wallet, to ward off scammers.

The Bottom Line

It's safe to assume that if anyone is asking for your bank or personal information, you're being taken for a scam. You should never give out personal information to anyone on the Internet who contacts you directly. If you have to make a financial transaction online, make sure you're doing so on a secure server and through a reputable site. If for any reason you believe you've been scammed, you should immediately change all of your passwords and delete any malicious software you may have downloaded. And always remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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