MARCH 2009

Navigating Scams in a Down Economy

Cyber scammers are currently taking advantage of the recession in an attempt to get past your defenses. Below are five schemes you should be on the lookout for. Keep in mind, these techniques may not only show up as spammed messages in your inbox, but also on the websites you visit, like blogs and social networking sites.

  1. Misleading online job ads and offers
    Bogus employment ads and propositions abound on the Web. With rising unemployment rates, you can expect these types of scams to grow. An IDG News Service article recently reported a 345 percent increase in fake job ads over the past three years, according to data from the U.K.'s Association for Payment Clearing Services.1 When it comes to online employment offerings, the adage, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," certainly applies. It seems common sense to be cautious about get-rich quick type schemes, yet with the increasing sophistication of today's scams, it's not always easy to tell when you're being fooled.

    In the beginning of February, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued an alert due to numerous consumer complaints referencing work-from-home scams. Also referred to as "money mule scams", victims are hired to transfer money or goods, causing them to unwittingly take part in criminal activity. Those who fall for these types of scams, according to the IC3, often become victims of identity theft after handing over private information to the scammers. You should be leery of any unsolicited messages from job recruiters, and never send personal information in response to such a request without first verifying the authenticity of the sender.

  2. Ploys targeting banks, financial institutions, and money lenders
    The increased desire to save and earn money makes unwary computer users easier targets for today's cyber thieves. Fake financial transaction services, investment opportunities, and mortgage-service providers are likely to abound in the coming months as scammers use social engineering to manipulate users into performing certain actions or disclosing confidential data.

    In mid February, PC World reported that ANZ's Australian Internet banking service was hit with a scam that attempted to get online banking customers to give up personal information; disguising a counterfeit form as a security authentication, scammers lured customers to enter usernames, passwords, and ID numbers before allowing access to their accounts.2

    Keep in mind that your bank, and other legitimate companies, will not request that you provide sensitive data, like your account number, through e-mail. Any unsolicited requests for personal information should always raise a red flag.

  3. Scams taking advantage of breaking news
    Malware writers are renowned for playing off of public interest in the latest breaking news to trick computer users. In light of that, you most likely know that it's always best to get your news from a reliable source. Still, cyber scammers are successfully enticing users to click links in spammed messages by exploiting news of the current financial climate.

    At the start of February - when passage of a U.S. economic stimulus plan was imminent - scammers launched a spam wave, posing as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and claiming that the recipient was entitled to a "stimulus payment." The message urged users to fill out an attached document with their personal details, which, in actuality, was a means of stealing the victims' identity.

  4. Fake online coupons, promo offers, and surveys
    While searching for the very best deals online can be a great way to save a bit of money, it can also put you in a better position to fall for a scam. According to industry experts, e-coupons will likely become an increasingly popular means to lure economical shoppers into unknowingly infecting their systems or divulging sensitive information.

    You'll also need to be on the lookout for fraudulent offers and surveys which propose an incentive at completion. For example, in early December 2008, researchers reported a phishing scheme posing as a McDonald's member satisfaction survey; users were prompted to enter their bank account details, supposedly so their reward money could be deposited.3

  5. Rogue security software and scareware
    Making sure to have up-to-date security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a firwall) running on your PC is imperative to stay safe online. But, it's equally critical that you use reputable security software to ensure that you don't get fooled by rogue programs - applications that appear to be beneficial from a security perspective but provide little or no security, generate erroneous alerts, or attempt to lure you into participating in fraudulent transactions.

    Today's scammers know that users are responding to ever-increasing malware rates by seeking out protection from these threats with security software - and that, in turns, opens up new opportunities to peddle their rogue applications.

    If you know that you have anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a firewall on your PC, you can safely ignore security alerts you receive that do not come from your chosen security software provider. (Rogue security software will often try to lure computer uses by using legitimate looking pop-up messages that appear to be security alerts.) Also, most anti-malware programs, like Ad-Aware, will help keep you protected from rogues because they can find and detect these programs.

And remember - the best way to navigate today's threats without compromising your privacy and security is to use caution when surfing the Web, and to be vigilante about practicing safe online behavior. Keep safe out there!

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1 http://www.infoworld.com/
2 http://pcworld.co.nz/
3 http://www.scmagazineuk.com/

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