Tricounty News

It’s always scam time

No matter what’s going on in the world, there’s someone out there ready to take advantage of people.

Today there are so many different ways you can be scammed, it’s hard to keep up with it all. By the time people catch on to one method, 10 more scam schemes have popped up.

There is, of course, one cardinal rule that will spare you from most of the scams out there: If it seems too good to be true, run away, it’s most likely a scam.

I get hundreds of emails every day, and about 90 percent or more of them are “phishing” or scam emails. One look at the source email address, where it came from, will tell you most of the time that it’s not authentic. For instance, any email address that ends in a foreign code (like .cn, .it, .jp, etc.) is usually coming from a foreign country. Your credit card company, bank, or someone trying to send you a package legitimately won’t be emailing from England or Poland. (I should mention here that our website domain and our email addresses have “.mn” at the end. It’s conveniently similar to “MN” for Minnesota, but it’s actually Mongolia. We purchase this domain through Ulan Bataar in Mongolia each year, and it is perfectly legitimate.)

You can’t completely trust what looks like a valid email address, though, either. It can be easy to hack a legitimate email address and use it to spam all of their contacts. About every two or three months, we receive a desperate email from one of our readers who’s been mugged in Spain or Italy or the Philippines and needs $2,000 or so to pay their hotel bill. This often happens with certain email providers, but it can happen to anyone at any time. If in doubt, don’t email back to ask questions. Contact the sender another way, if you can, to let them know they’ve been hacked; they probably already know. Otherwise, delete the email message and trash it.

A second cardinal rule when it comes to scams: Don’t reply or respond in any way. Just delete the message. If you respond to unsubscribe, or to give them a piece of your mind, you only move up on their “sucker list” and they can actually make money selling your email address as a “live” one.

Rule #3: Don’t open an attachment. Just delete it, and then empty your trash. Don’t click on a link to an invitation unless you’re dead-certain who sent it. This may give criminals access to your computer (and everything in it).

Surveys are among the latest of scams. The emails offer you free gift cards for simply answering a few questions. Check the email address it’s coming from. I’m not aware of any legitimate businesses just randomly sending out surveys to non-customers. What they’re trying to do is get personal information on you that could be sold or otherwise used against you. Apply rule #2 above: delete and trash these emails. There is no $25 gift card that’s worth risking your identity security.

It’s safest to ignore email offers of loans, cheap lasik surgery, a fool-proof stock purchase, romantic relationship, or miracle drugs. You wouldn’t take any of these offers from a door-to-door salesman or someone standing on a street corner; why would you take them from random and anonymous strangers by email?

Another scary thing that’s out there on the Internet is webcam hacking. Apparently it’s super-easy to hack into the webcam built into computers these days to watch, photograph and record unsuspecting victims. The little green “on” light can be bypassed, so you’ll never know. Experts advise putting a piece of black tape across the camera when you’re not using it. The surest way to prevent this invasion of privacy is to turn off your computer, or at least close it up when you’re not using it.

The Internet offers all kinds of wonders, most of them we find beneficial. Facebook allows us to reconnect and stay connected with family and friends all over the world. Google and Bing let us find any obscure bit of information almost instantaneously. Even these seemingly innocuous wonders of the Internet can be misused.

Keep your eyes open. Trust your instincts. Don’t fall for an offer that’s too good to be true. When in doubt, just delete the message.