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     Internet Fraud

Consumer frauds and SCAMS existed long before the internet, so it should come as no surprise to learn that con artists and scammers have been quick to take advantage of internet technology to continue their operations online.†

One of the advantages they have online is that it is relatively cheap to create a flashy and expensive looking website that looks the same as any legitimate well-known e-commerce site. Many people new to the internet think that if a company has a big colorful website they must be legitimate, and their business can be TRUSTED. So they read the website, believe every word, and then send off their money -- only to discover later that the website was a FRAUD, and that they have no way of getting their money back.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, fraudulent schemes running on the very popular online AUCTION sites are currently the most commonly reported form of internet fraud. The simplest of these schemes is to offer for sale high-value highly popular and collectible items at a low price -- dolls, toys, trading cards etc. Visitors to these online auction sites are fooled into sending money -- and then either never receive anything back, or they receive different goods of a vastly inferior quality. Think about whether the people running the auction know if the people posting are telling the truth or not about what they are selling. Usually the auction site has no idea, and just posts people's messages. Just because it's on an auction site doesn't make it true!

And be especially careful about claims concerning the CONDITION an item is in -- especially when the seller claims an expensive or rare item is "like new". Since you can't see the goods for sale, how do you know? Even if there is a photo posted with the description, you have no idea if that photo is really of the item in question. Stay away from sellers that claim ďall sales are finalĒ -- and ask for a written return policy from the seller if one isnít posted on the site.

A good auction site will have a section where people who get scammed and cheated can post WARNINGS about people not to do business with. Look for this on your site. If it doesn't have this kind of section, be very suspicious. And finally, COMPLAIN to the auction site if you have problems. Some auction sites (certainly the best) investigate scams, and will ban con artists who cheat buyers. But unless buyers complain the auction site won't know what's going on.

Another area of online scams involves "work at HOME and make lots of money" offers. These offers, which claim participants can earn literally thousands of dollars per month, usually require interested people to send money in advance, ranging from $35 to hundreds of dollars. The resulting "SECRET" information to getting rich usually requires investing thousands of dollars more, or is of no value at all.

Shopping Online E-Commerce is here to stay. But people can still be scammed. Safe shopping can be achieved if you follow a few simple rules. Of course, the safest companies to e-shop with are companies with famous names that have a good REPUTATION and have physical stores offline too. If you are considering e-shopping with a website that has a name you have never heard of, how can you be sure it's safe? And be sure to shop at websites that have physical locations in your country. Think about it. If you e-shop from a website that's based in a foreign country and then you never get the goods, how are you going to complain? If they have no offline presence, try to speak with others who have used that online store in the past. Word of mouth is an excellent indicator of a vendorís RELIABILITY.

Mail order services in the United States are governed by the federal telephone and mail order rule. This requires businesses trading mail order to deliver ordered goods within 30 DAYS, unless a different amount was agreed. Check the delivery policies and RETURN policies of the e-store you are looking at. If you don't like them, e-shop elsewhere! And when you order goods online, be sure to print out a complete copy of your ORDER, reference numbers, and contact numbers and addresses for the company you are doing business with for future reference.

Be suspicious if the sale is "CASH only" -- that suggests a fraud. The best way to pay is with a credit card, because that is traceable, and you can dispute the charges ifthe goods never arrive or if you were lied to about their condition. Consider using someone you trust as a go-between agent between seller and buyer (this is called an "ESCROW" service). You send your money to the agent and the seller sends the goods to the agent. The agent then determines if the sale is legitimate or a scam. Alternately you could insist on cash on delivery. If you pay by check, make sure the check is made out to the seller's actual name and not, for example, the post office, or "cash".

The best way to pay is with a CREDIT CARD, because that is traceable, and you can dispute the charges if the goods never arrive or if you were lied to about their condition. If your e-store doesn't take credit cards, then they aren't an e-store, so don't shop there! And make sure that when you pay by credit card you are using a "SECURE SERVER". This encrypts your information making it impossible for others to steal it. When you are in the secure server area, your web browser will tell you. If you are using Netscape, you will see a closed gray padlock in the bottom left hand corner. In Microsoft Explorer you will see a closed golden padlock in the bottom right corner. Avoid shopping with companies that don't use secure server transactions.

Don't do business with people whose only email address is one of the free and SEMI-ANONYMOUS web based email systems. Unless the email shows a genuine internet service provider email address, be very suspicious. Web based email addresses are "throw away" addresses and can be dumped and changed in minutes. If you have a "real" email address, you have a better chance of tracing the perpetrator if the deal goes wrong.


Colin Gabriel Hatcher, an attorney and lifelong volunteer youth worker, is the innovative mastermind behind SafetyEd International. With 21 years experience in education, 11 years of computer experience, and over 7 years working in internet related safety, child protection and child advocacy, Colin is an accomplished expert researcher and writer in the internet field -- as well as being an expert in internet and cyberspace law. You may visit his website at www.safetyed.org or contact him at .

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