Avoiding Internet Con Tricks

There is no doubt that you'll come across problems at some point, using the Internet. Perhaps the most scurrilous confidence tricks are those that play on the emotions. These are the most common confidence tricks:

Case 1: A woman, usually from Russia or Africa advertises herself as looking for a husband on the Internet, through one of the many free dating sites. A man replies and correspondence begins. At some point, the lady either states that she has very little money and needs help with the fees of her Internet Agency or that she's had a major financial problem. Having become interested in her, it's easy for the man to be lulled into the feeling that she's interested in him. Thus, a request for $100 to help out a future wife, doesn't seem so much of a problem. Unfortunately $100 is all the woman is interested in and immediately or very shortly afterwards, she ceases contact before moving on to the next victim. Often, the supposed woman isn't really a woman but criminal organisation, specialising in this. There are reports that this is rife in Belorussia.
Solution: Don't send money to people you have never met, no matter what they might claim or say. Give it to charity instead.

Case 2: A woman, usually from Russia advertises herself as above. The man pays for her to visit his country and she has a very nice all-expenses-paid holiday but then goes back to Russia (or wherever), where she commences on her next victim. It is not unknown for the man to travel to Russia and be robbed of everything, his wallet, his passport, his watch, his jewellery, his shoes, his clothes and even his gold teeth, by the woman or her friends.
Solution: In many poverty-stricken countries such as Russia, armed bodyguards are quite good value. Use them! If in doubt, contact the your foreign office and ask their advice.

Case 3: Internet pay-per-view pornography sites. Many of these will advertise themselves as being free but that a credit card number is required as proof that the viewer is 18 years of age. The only reason many people don't complain when they find that they've been charged for supposedly free viewing is that they're too embarrassed to complain.
Solution: Pornography isn't necessary to the quality of your life. Don't waste your time, money, sanity and reputation on it.

Case 4: Goods that fail to arrive or aren't as described. This isn't common but it does happen.
Solution: Don't order anything from a company whose offices you can't locate and visit if necessary. Always buy via a reputable credit company who'll refund your money if the goods don't arrive or aren't as described.

Case 5: Employment Agencies. There are a lot of so-called employment agencies. The list of tricks they can pull is seemingly endless and ranges from asking for money in order to arrange "grading" or "testing" of the client. Most seem to demand postal addresses which seems a little pointless as they never pass such details on to the companies to whom they send your details.
Solution: Never give Employment Agencies referee details, company addresses, your address, your land telephone number, your work address or your work phone number. Give them only a web based throwaway email address and a throwaway mobile phone number. Above all, never ever give them any money. Also, never ever take their "tests" or attend "interviews" with them, especially when it's at your own expense. Don't use just one agency or just one employment website. Never, ever telephone them. Let them telephone you. Never, ever, fill in online forms. It's rare to find one that actually saves the data before the site bombs out (usually on the penultimate page and after 30 minutes of wasted and expensive connection time).

Case 6: People responding to your advertisements or website. Generally, most responses to your advertisements fall into one of 3 categories: obvious timewasters, devious timewasters and genuine respondents. The obvious timewasters write one or two line responses such as: "Please could you contact me on the below number. George Nobody, Consultant. A Recruitment Agency. Telephone (9999) 999999". Often the one-liners can be something like "Hi, I've lost your phone number. Could you send it to me again" This is undoubtedly a spammer, especially if you don't recognise the sender and if he's responding to an Internet Advertisement you've made. The devious timewasters are not quite so easy to spot generally, their replies will be plausible but will have a touch of anonymity - they never read your advert but replied anyway. For example: a recent advertisement placed by a lady stated that she was 48 and sought an older man, preferably with children for companionship. There were many replies, all of which fell into the categories of "Timewaster" (such as the 34 year old who wanted bondage and s/m), "Clever Timewaster" (such as those who'd written long, plausible but non-specific responses) and "Genuine". Even amongst the "Genuine" respondents there were one or two spammers. A recent response to an advert placed on an employment website by a job-seeker received a one-line response. On responding to that with a "who are you" response unleashed a torrent of abuse and bad language from the person who initiated the correspondence. Obviously it wasn't a company but was an Internet Psychopath trying to get his daily fix of tantrum and anger.
Solution: if you advertise, use a throwaway email address. Never, ever pay to place the advertisement. Expect spam. If it looks suspicious, it probably is suspicious so don't respond.

Case 7: Having given out your mobile phone number and/or throwaway email address, you begin to receive invitations to telephone premium rate numbers, normal rate numbers or freephone numbers via SMS. Junk emails have been dealt with in other areas of this site.
Solution: Junk SMS messages are a relatively new phenomenon. Dealing with these can be difficult. In Britain, if the number you have to ring starts with 09 then it's premium rate and you need to contact the premium rate organisation: ICSTIS who can be rung on 0800 500 212. Junk SMS messages are against the industry code of practice. Thus, any 09 service provider who does send junk SMS messages can have their access withdrawn. One company sent a junk SMS, advertising ringtones and within a day or two, their number had been withdrawn. Junk SMS messages advertising 0800 and normal numbers are harder to deal with because there is no organisation dealing with that kind of advertising. OFTEL is currently collecting complaints for presentation to the European Parliament in the hope of pressing for legislative change. OFTEL can be contacted on 0845 7145000. The best solution to companies advertising 0800 numbers is to ring them via their 0800 number, from a public phonebox and complain directly. Often their operators can be quite rude but if enough people did this, their phonebill would ensure that this rapidly became a loss making form of advertising. It would also be quite effective in the long term if you wrote to your MP, complaining about the nuisance or junk SMS and junk email.

Case 8: Classified advertisements via the Internet by men/women looking for men/women. Generally, it's best to avoid these as you're unlikely to meet them. There have been horror stories of men going out to (usually Russia or Latvia) meet their dream woman only to find a gang of men waiting in her flat who then proceed to part them from their money. The victim never receives more than a brush-off from the state police as the state police in most countries only work as well as they're paid.
Solution: Don't spend time looking for men/women via the Internet. They're usually only advertising there because they are too lazy to make improvements to their own lives or lack any skills/willingness to achieve them and see marriage as a free lunch. Frequently, women following this route have a child within the first year of marriage then when the child is in primary school, divorce their husband. They have everything they need - a child and a Western passport by then. Don't believe that people from the former USSR are really interested in you - it's the passport and the money that interests them.

Case 9: Online auctions: Frequently one sees advertised suspiciously cheap CDs of Windows 2000 (which at the time of writing retailed at between 100 and 200) but which is advertised for just 15 or 20.
Solution: Such CDs are almost certainly pirated and as such the item should be reported immediately  to the auctioneers (eg FSAuctions), Trading Standards and the originating software house (eg Microsoft).

Case 10: Online auctions: Some online auctions will attempt to turn their users into addicts. They offer a commenting system, which is supposed to be useful. It does help to a certain extent but doesn't truly reflect the fact that only about 80% of all auction transactions go without a hitch. It's easy for a crook to set up a different account if he gets negative comments. It's equally easy for a crook to put negative comments against an honest dealer's name out of spite. Some auctions even offer stars of different colours if one has made say 10, 100 and 500 transactions.
Solution: Don't be fooled into believing that online auctions are a way of making money. They're solely an handy way of dumping unwanted things that can't be sold locally. Also, don't fall under the spell of coloured stars and comments. Coloured stars are what children are given in school to make them work harder - in the end even they realise it's just a cheap confidence trick. Finally, all online auction transactions must be treated with caution - never post goods before receiving payment (if by cheque then wait for the cheque to clear). If buying, keep copies of the auction and the emails received as evidence. Whether buying or selling, verify that the purchaser or seller actually resides at the address given. This can be done by checking in electoral registers or the phone book. If the other party does not reside at the given address then do not continue with the transaction.

Case 11: Bonus points: Many companies now issue points with every purchase. These are variously described as "Rewards", "Loyalty", "Bonus" or by some other name. Essectially, what they are is a cheap confidence trick. The purpose of the points is that the customer registers every purchase made with the issuing organisation and that way the organisation knows what lines are selling and what type of person is buying them. This benefits the organisation in many ways. For example: if customers of an older age group are buying brand X biscuits then they know they need to promote brand X biscuits to younger customers or they'll have to withdraw the product as their customer base reduces through natural wastage. Essentially, the organisations are after personal details - details they can then use in order to send targetted junkmail. Notice that the consumer doesn't benefit.In 10 years of aquiring bonus points on their credit card, the average consumer merely acquires enough bonus points to get the 10% off coupons that an astute consumer could get anyway. Look at the economics of bonus points. On a typical scheme the consumer receives 1 point for every ten pounds ($15) spent. The organisation has had lots of useful data and the consumer's privacy has been invaded - that invasion has been rewarded with a 0.003% (often less) gratuity. This is an insult to the consumer's intelligence.
Solution: Don't be greedy. Nothing is free. Value your privacy. Any coupons received should be regarded with caution as shops are not duty-bound to honour them.  If the organisation offers points, the consumer should ask themselves whether 0.003% is a living wage since the organisation obviously wishes the consumer to work for them as a market researcher.

Case 12: The local "special": Many shops/websites offer goods they do not sell and will never be in a position to sell. Typically, they either avertise the item or the consumer asks whether they sell such an item. The response is either "It's not in stock right now but we should be having them in" or "I'll have to ask our suppliers". Of course, they never do. Then after a few weeks of waiting, the consumer is judged to be at a low enough ebb or impatient enough to accept anything so the shop then finds it possible to sell the consumer an inferior product. Often the shop/site will attempt to keep the consumer interested by stating a very low price for the product, along the lines of "Oh, it'll be less than you'd pay at (insert shop name)".
Solution: never believe anything any shop/website ever says about an item that's not verifiably in stock. If it's not in stock in one site/shop, it surely will be - somewhere else. Also remember that any shop/site can claim they sell an item at any price the consumer likes as long as they say it's not in stock or they're awaiting delivery. If they state a price, take the consumer's money and state that the item's in stock, when it isn't then that's possibly a matter for the police and definitely a matter that should go before a judge.