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Be wise to avoid varieties of internet scams
Chief of Police Art deWerk

These days, there is an unending list of scams that criminals attempt to perpetrate on us. The internet has created scam opportunities or criminals from around the world. Neither borders nor oceans can give us cover from the constant onslaught of scam attempts. Scams come in the form of emails, pop-up windows when browsing the web, items sent and received through the mail, and through telephone solicitations. And because there are literally millions of scams perpetrated daily, neither law enforcement nor corporation-based security personnel can even make a dent in the problem. There are as many scams as there are criminals perpetrating them.

This means that everyone needs to know what to look for to avoid falling victim. There are a couple of truisms in life that, when acknowledged, will keep most people from becoming a scam victim. The first is that when something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. The second is that it is nearly impossible to get something for nothing - there is almost always a price to pay or some negative consequence when a stranger seeks to "give" you anything for nothing.

For internet and email users, keep in mind that most anyone can create messages and websites that look exactly like legitimate businesses like banks, retail outlets, lending companies, shipping companies, and even Internet/e-mail providers. I have also seen email messages that purport to be official communications from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

"Phishing" is a very common fraud/scam tactic. As an example of how far-reaching scams can be, a criminal sitting in a room in Botswana wishing to defraud you can generate an email that looks like a legitimate notice from your bank. It may state that that your account is temporarily frozen from some reason and in order to reactivate it, you are asked to log in with your user name and password, as well provide as other personal identifying information that you would normally keep confidential.Once the requested information is provided, the phisher now has what is needed to access your account. Banks and other lending institutions do not request that kind of information via emails or telephone calls - not even in letter form. If you have even the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of such an inquiry, you should immediately notify the company whose name is being used to request your information.

Another scam that is presently very popular within the email system is a notice that claims to be your system administrator with a message that says that your inbox has exceeded its storage limit and that you should log in with your user name and password. Of course, you should never do this since it gives the criminal information that can be used to compromise your email security.

Persons offering to deposit any amount of money (it is usually a large amount) into your bank account with the promise of sharing some amount of it is most assuredly a scam designed to give access to your financial assets by your providing the information needed to access your account. Remember what I stated earlier in this column; you cannot get something for nothing, so do not even reply to these criminals and their phony promises of immediate riches.

It is advisable to guard your personal information, account information, user names and passwords very carefully. Never give out credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone soliciting it. It is also wise to change user names and passwords regularly, and do not use public computers when engaging in online financial activities. Furthermore, when you see an email that causes you suspicion, it is best not to open it. The only step you might take is to find the bank or company's phone number (independent from the email itself), call and explain what you have received. Typically you will be connected with a security specialist who will advise what to do. In most instances they will give you an email address to forward to scam message to. You can Google any of the banks to find the email address they use for forwarding scam and fraudulent emails.

In terms of telephone solicitations for donations to phony causes, there is still a lot of that kind of activity where callers ask for donations to charities, police organizations, etc. If you feel inclined to make a donation (not all solicitations are fraudulent), ask the caller if you can call them back to verify their credentials, and call the organization directly to confirm the legitimacy of the cause. No matter what, telephone solicitations are risky business requiring great caution. There are also many online forums where scams are reported. You can do a web search of the phone number that appeared on your caller ID to see what has already been posted by others receiving phone calls from the same number or company.

I can list more examples, but to do so would consume volumes of pages, perhaps as much as the laws that our federal legislators are passing these days. If you want to make donations to charitable organizations, then choose one of your liking and contact them yourself. Internet and email activity that seeks your information is a scam 99.99 percent of the time. You can disarm these Internet criminals by blocking their messages, disregarding them and frankly, just assuming the worst and acting accordingly.