THE BLOG
10/28/2014 06:53 pm ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Scam Artists' Greatest Hits

The FBI reported that monetary damage from crimes reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) jumped by nearly 50 percent last year. It is no surprise that more and more criminals are becoming computer-savvy enough to attempt these crimes. What is surprising is that even though the most common Internet scams are well-known by now, people are still falling for them.

To help more people recognize these scams, here are some examples, plus a discussion of their common elements.

Today's popular Internet scams

The IC3 report included the following as examples of popular scams -- popular with criminals, of course. Not so much the victims.

  1. Auto auction fraud. The victim thinks he is being given a chance to buy a car below book value. The only catch is the vehicle is out of the country, so a deposit needs to be sent before the car can be shipped. Once the money is sent, the car and dealer disappear, along with the deposit.
  2. Romance scams. Online romances do happen, but when the flowery poetry is followed by a request for money because of a sudden tragedy or emergency, it's not the real thing. Neither is the person on the other end of the conversation.
  3. FBI scams. People impersonating FBI or other law enforcement officials send emails pressuring people to pay a fine for some supposed Internet crime. The real FBI advises that it does not send out unsolicited emails of this nature.
  4. Tech-support scams. A caller claiming to be from a big-name computer company advises you that your computer has been infected with a virus. When they guide you through the "cure," they are actually setting themselves up to have remote access to your device.

Common elements of these scams

Cyber criminals often put their own little twist on these scams, so the specific details may not always be the same. However, there are some common elements that should be a giveaway that a pitch is a fraud:

  1. Too good to be true. High guaranteed returns. A cache of wealth just waiting to be unlocked. The appeal to greed is a common element of Internet scams. Just remember this rule: People looking to get something for nothing usually end up getting nothing for something.
  2. A sense of urgency. Creating a tight time limit is a technique to make people forget to think clearly, and to prevent them from running the situation by someone else. When considering any financial proposition, the more the other party wants to speed you up, the more you should slow down.
  3. Money (or information) up front. These deals usually hinge on the victim providing money or valuable information (like a bank account number) before receiving anything in return. Unless there is some mutual (and traceable exchange), don't agree to give up anything valuable.
  4. One-way contact. If your only contact with someone is through an email with a return link, you need to independently verify their existence. Real businesses can be found in directories and checked out through the local Better Business Bureau.

If someone on a city street offered to sell you a Rolex for $10, you'd probably just keep on walking. Similarly, if you hear a pitch with any of the above elements, the best response is to ignore it and go about your business.

Also by Richard Barrington: