Saturday, November 27, 2010

You can avoid becoming a victim of fraud

A few weeks ago, I received a leaflet from the US Postal Inspection Service, with a few reminders on what is a safe behavior on the Internet.  A useful list of things everybody knows, but that's best reminded every now and then.

If it looks to good to be true, then it's not.

Yes, Mr. X died a few months ago in very strange circumstances, he has no heirs and his lawyer is looking for someone on whose account he would transfer an insane amount of money. Of course, you would get a cut, say 10 or 15% out of the multi-billion loot.

Right, seems yummy.

Using that pretext, scammers will either ask for some personal information, including bank information, or for an "advance", because there are unexpected difficulties. 

If the latter is "only" some money you'll lose - and it amounted to a number with 5 or 6 digits in certain case - there is nothing more to it.

The former is actually more a problem: with these information, that may include passport numbers and so on, the scammers are able to forge your identity, make fake travel documents (think "terrorism") or in certain cases, impersonate you and rip you off your money.

Also, never forget that even "improbable" countries have certain guidelines when it comes to money for which no heir is to be found.

A friend is stuck in an improbable country or is extremely sick abroad

Another classic. Someone you know just sent you an email: she/he had all his belongings stolen while traveling and asks for some money. A common variant is the friend fell sick during a travel and the "nasty, evil" hospital requests the money prior to start treating her/him. Again, money is needed.

There, the scammers touch to a sensitive part of ourselves: our compassion and the fact we wouldn't let down a friend in need.

Only one solution: call the friend in question, especially if you don't know his/her whereabouts. In most of the cases, you'll end up with a very surprised person on the phone ... who will discover that his/her email account was compromised.

My lovely friend from abroad starts to need money

A few weeks ago, you started discussing with that cute girl from a poor country. And, gradually, she mentioned that her lack of money was preventing her from doing what she wanted to: continuing school, purchasing a shop ... or even taking a flight and come to see you. But she would not accept you to come and see her.

At some point, she asks if you could lend her a certain amount. It starts with small sums, and she sends a couple of pictures of her school and so on. Then, "I need big money ... I have a problem". Problem is, as soon as you've sent the money, you never hear from her again, and worse, the email address bounces back.

Yup, fake.

Abusing loneliness is also a big money maker with scammers.

A few facts and things to recall when online

  • You have no way of making sure your correspondent is who he claims he is
That might seem obvious, but anyone could pretend to be rich, famous, beautiful, your banker or a friend. You have no real way of checking it online. The only option is to check offline, especially if you smell a rat.

  • URL can be disguised in an email, and a website appearance can be copied
Here is a quick example: Did you notice how this link, that seems to send to the FBI website, actually points to the CIA website?  This could be worse, I could have copied hotmail's login page and pointed it to you. You would have tried to log in ... guess what would have happened to your username and password?

If someone prompts you to click on an email, ask yourself why you would want to click on it. Also, if it comes from your bank, type the link you know, do not click on the one in the email.

  • A bank never asks for private information in an email
Does your banker suffer from amnesia he has to ask you your account number? No, he is not your banker. Most of the banks will be more than happy to explain you what they may and may not ask in an email or over the phone.

  • You can't win a lottery you never played
Regardless of how much you want to, you can't win to a lottery if you haven't played. And worse: in certain countries, it's illegal to participate to a foreign lottery.

  • Keep your applications and antivirus up-to-date
That one is easier to say than to do: we all have 30 to 40 different applications on a computer, including the operating system. Maintaining the whole stuff up-to-date is a daunting task.

The safest is to have an antivirus that also acts as an endpoint security application. Or to use a secure OS, such as Linux.

That's all folks. Have a safe trip online.

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