Online financial scams are nothing new, but sophisticated technology and a tough economic climate have led to a recent increase in the number of people falling prey to this type of fraud. Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report revealed that fraud rose by 12.5 percent in 2009 over the previous year, accounting for $54 billion. From employment scams to malware, it’s important for even the most tech-savvy among us to be aware of the financial scams currently circulating on the Internet.
With high levels of unemployment, there have been more and more scammers eager to take advantage of those seeking work. A recent scam has phony employers offering work-at-home opportunities via legitimate employment sites. The “employers” will require job applicants to provide money up front for reasons such as credit report processing or equipment fees. The trick here is that the “employer” never actually had a job opportunity to offer; they will simply keep the money and cease contact with the job applicant. Although there certainly are legitimate work-at-home jobs, it is important to exercise caution. Thoroughly research any company offering this type of work and utilize resources like the Better Business Bureau to confirm that you’re dealing with a trustworthy company.
Another online employment scam has phony employers providing a check as a signing bonus to job applicants. The “employer” then requests that once applicants cash the check, they return a portion of the money to the “employer” due to a mistake in the amount sent. Do not fall for this updated version of what’s commonly called a “Nigerian Payment Scam.” The check provided to you by this scammer will wind up being fraudulent, and you will be out the money you forwarded along to the “employer.” When applying for jobs online, always use reputable Web sites, and remember that the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” still applies.
Financial scammers continue to get more sophisticated with the ways they fraudulently obtain secure information. Malware, short for “malicious software,” is designed to infiltrate a computer system without your consent and can be used to steal personal information such as your credit card numbers, online banking passwords, or Social Security Number. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware and other malicious and unwanted software. Your computer can be infected with malware in a variety of ways, including e-mail attachments, file sharing sites, bundled software and pop-up online advertisements.
Malware programs can be used to track what you input online, such as your e-mail passwords and logins for Web sites, and may also present seemingly legitimate Web pages that request your secure information. Malware can be difficult to detect on a computer, but if you notice that Web sites are performing in unexpected ways — for example, being redirected to a Web page requesting your credit card information or Social Security Number while trying to access online banking — your computer may be infected with malware.
Not all computer virus scanning software will detect malware, so be sure to use programs specifically designed for malware removal to detect it on your computer. Malware can also be tricky to remove, so it’s recommended that you download and install at least two different malware removal programs. There are a number of effective malware removal programs available, such as the free Malwarebytes and SpyBot Search & Destroy software. When using this software, run both programs, reboot your computer, and then run both programs again to help ensure the removal of malware. You may also want to change your online passwords using a different computer that was not infected.
To help prevent online financial fraud, it’s important to always keep your computer protected from viruses, spyware and malware. Be sure to install anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs on your computer and keep them up to date. Always exercise caution when opening e-mails or e-mail attachments from unknown senders. There are many free and inexpensive software options that will help keep your computer safe and protect your personal information in the process, so be sure to take advantage of these resources.