Scam stoppers: the top four online scams and how to spot them

Australian Macworld staff
9 June, 2010
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PayPal and Crime Stoppers have joined forces to help prevent Australians from becoming the victims of cyber crime and online scams. During 2009, over 20,000 people reported being victims of online fraud, and those responsible likely pocketed up to $70 million. The two organisations are hoping to keep Australians up-to-date with the latest scams in an effort to avoid becoming victims.

“Protecting your personal and financial information online has never been more important,” says Adrian Christie from PayPal. “The most effective cyber scams often play on the emotions of people, their trust and goodwill and quite often, the common thread in completing these scams involves the target providing personal information or transferring funds.”

“There are lots of ways to protect yourself both online and off, but one fundamental way is to know what to look out for,” says Peter Price from Crime Stoppers.

The best way is to know what sort of scams people are continually falling for. Thanks to Crime Stoppers and PayPal, here are four of the most common:

The Phony Porn Ploy
Playing on the threat of mortification, the phony porn ploy targets those selling electronic goods to overseas buyers. The camera, phone or computer is sent to the overseas buyer, payment is processed and everyone is happy, right? Wrong! Not long after the transaction appears to be complete, the ploy begins. An official looking letter on customs letterhead from the buyer’s country is received in the post by the seller. Stating a breach of import laws due to pornographic materials being found on the camera, phone or computer, the letter requests a big payment or the seller will face huge (and embarrassing) repercussions. Rightly or wrongly, the seller is mortified and pays the fine to what turns out to be a fake customs department.

The Cross-Border Customs Con
Small Business owners beware as swindlers want your money too and they seem to be getting it through the cross-border customs con, which targets small to medium sized businesses. After landing what appears to be a major order from overseas, and prior to any payment, an apparent customs form arrives in the post requesting fees from the business. Form processed, customs fees paid, payment not received and the con is complete.

The Big Win Hoax
Congratulations, you’re the grand winner in a sweepstakes you’ve never heard of! The big win hoax plays on the individual’s sense of excitement. Often alerting “winners” via email, claiming the prize of a car, motorcycle or cold hard cash, is as easy as clicking a link embedded in the email. Click link, input personal details and wait for your prize – too easy! A few days later, the winner receives an email apparently from his or her bank. The email includes a significant amount of personal details and asks our lucky winner to update their security settings which involves inputting bank details. Weeks later, still waiting for that car, motorcycle or money, the winner realises that a big sum has been deducted from their bank account. No prize, missing money and the big win hoax is complete.

The Shady Shipping Agent Scam
You’re selling your car online and all of a sudden you have a buyer. Success! The only thing is, the buyer lives overseas and needs the help of a “shipping agent” who needs about $1500 – your $1500 – to get the car to the owner. The shady shipping agent scam plays on people’s willingness to trust. The seller sees no problem with the shipping fee – they did receive an official looking email from a legitimate financial company guaranteeing payment for the value of the car after all. The problem is, the email is forged and once the $1500 transfer is complete, communication from the buyer stops and the unsuspecting car seller out $1500

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