Authorities: Be wary of Web-based scams

John Zick

Those hoping to find good gift deals and avoid crowded stores aren’t the only ones flocking to the Internet this holiday season – so are crooks looking to take advantage of online shoppers.

Authorities are warning the public that online scams ramp up this time of year as more shoppers head to the Internet to buy gifts for the holidays. And scam artists don’t just target individuals, either, according to police – public and private sector businesses can also fall victim.

While there are a variety of ways crooks try to scam others, the New York State Police have identified some of the current threat trends.

They are:

• Phony profiles on social networking sites that claim to be legitimate businesses. The fake profiles look like those of their legitimate counterparts, but clicking on the links could allow malicious code to be installed on the victim’s computer.

• Emails from businesses claiming that a “wrong transaction” has been made to a credit card. The email will claim to offer a refund if the victim downloads and completes a refund form. The form, however, is embedded with malicious code, and downloading it installs malware onto the victim’s computer.

• Emails from bogus courier services. The fake courier will send an email saying a package is waiting for the victim. The email asks for personal information in order to retrieve the package.

• Illegitimate websites that claim to offer “hot” gift items that most legitimate retailers no longer have. These websites steal personal information and charge the victim’s credit card.

Anyone who believes they are a victim of an online scam should contact their local police department or call 911.

Police offer tips

Common sense is the best way to avoid becoming a victim, but police offer the following tips:

• Never click on the links in an email from an unknown sender. If the email seems to be from a legitimate retailer, go to the retailer’s site and log on directly. Whatever offer was made in the email, if valid, will be available there.

• Never open an email attachment from an unknown sender. Typically, retailers will not send emails with attachments. If there is any doubt, contact the retailer directly.

• Do not give out personal information over the phone or in an email unless completely sure. If contacted over the phone by someone claiming to be a retailer or a collection agent, do not give out your personal information. Ask them to provide you with their name and a call-back number.