First, the bad news: you probably haven’t inherited millions of dollars from an unknown relative overseas, and while some parts of Nigeria do recognize local monarchies, the country doesn’t have princes. Nearly everyone with an e-mail address has received a message including some variation of the above scams, but online consumer fraud doesn’t end with these well-known con games.
Most scammers are creative, resourceful individuals who unfortunately use their talents to defraud others. Developments in technology have only given these criminals even more avenues through which to commit consumer fraud. If you want to keep yourself safe in the digital age, you have to be aware of the risks and learn to recognize fraudulent behavior.
Prizes that Aren’t
Have you entered a contest? If not, then you probably haven’t won a prize, either. As exciting as it might seem to think you’ve won a laptop or a shopping spree, this is one of the most popular online scams. You click a link and suddenly your monitor is filled with bright, flashy graphics informing you that all you need to do is fill out something or sign up for something to collect your free prize.
Often these are simply attempts to collect your personal information. Other times, the offers are legitimate, but fraudulent in a different way. For example, you may actually get that gift certificate you were promised, but only after signing up for a service that you could have obtained for a much lower cost.
A good general rule for any online interaction is that you should only sign up or sign in for processes that you initiated yourself. Unsolicited offers can rarely be trusted in the off-line world, and should never be trusted online.
Shopping Safely Online
Avoiding consumer fraud online becomes a bit trickier when you want to use the Internet to do your shopping. Looking at every site that sells items online as a potential fraud is a bit extreme, because there are many safe, valid stores online.
When it comes to verifying the validity of an online store, search engines are your best tool. Simply search for the name of the retailer and the word review. A number of specialty websites exist online where consumers can share their experiences.
If the company is committing outright fraud, someone is likely to have shared it on one of these sites.
Online auctions provide a further avenue for scammers, but you can protect yourself with a little research here too. Legitimate auction sites will allow customer reviews, and usually offer some sort of dispute resolution process. Additionally, payment for legitimate online auctions is generally handled through a well-known online payment service like PayPal.
If, after a search, you can find no information about the payment processing service being used, consider the auction suspect. If the seller requests you pay by wire transfer, this is almost always suspicious. Wire transfer is the digital equivalent of handing someone cash without even checking his or her credentials.
If you find you’ve been defrauded, you usually have no recourse but discussing your situation with a consumer fraud attorney will confirm whether you have a case or not.
The Bottom Line for Avoiding Consumer Fraud Online – Research
On the internet, scammers are completely anonymous. They count on consumers to be uninformed, which is why your best defense is your willingness to spend a little time on research before sharing any personal information.