Every minute of every day people are victims of online scams — most often they arrive via e-mail. Some experts estimate that one person every 10 seconds is a victim of some type of scam or identity theft, and often the theft of personal information is easier because the victim unwittingly provides personal data. Families with multiple computers are especially vulnerable because people are working on many different online tasks. Children are susceptible to scams with animals, sick children, and the hardships of disasters. Kids need to be reminded – frequently – not to hit the reply button, no matter how good the cause.
The consumer affairs reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sheryl Harris, has developed Scamfinder, an extensive database to help people identify questionable e-mail or phone calls.
While most of us are familiar with the unrelenting e-mails from Nigeria, many other online scams, usually delivered by e-mail, are realistic and unnerving because they hit so close to home — for instance a charity soliciting around the time of a natural catastrophe or a seemingly thoughtful person writing to ask for contributions to police or victims of abuse. Sheryl Harris is often featured on the Market Place radio program, most recently on September 6, 2010. Scamfinder categories include:
- Work at home scams
- Charity scams
- Online dating
- Payment processing
- Mystery shopper scams
Snopes.com, focuses primarily on urban legends, and also has a small fraud section. Another place worth checking is the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
People often ask me about the difference between scams and urban legends. Essentially, scams have a victim and involve money — often significant amounts — while urban legends, also delivered by e-mail, usually involve tall tales forwarded over and over via email. Assume something is a scam until you know absolutely that it is not. No reputable business or charity will ever request personal financial information via e-mail or for that matter via text. Be sure your children follow this same strategy, and educate them to be on guard, no matter how good or heartrending the story.