You open your email and find a ‘great offer,’ tailored ‘just for you’ with ‘special discounts that you won’t see anywhere else.’ But you’re warned to ‘act now – limited supplies only!’ feeding the fear that if you actually stop and think about the purchase, or go around to compare prices or actually check up on this supposed company background, you’ll lose the ‘biggest bargain of your life.’
Hmmm. Sounds like the email is another of the hundreds of spam letters you get everyday. Most are filtered out by emails and sent to a spam box, but there are quite a few that weed their way into your inbox. Click delete—because the worst thing that can happen to you is to be scammed by spam. Here are ways to protect yourself from online shopping fraud.
1. Use caution when looking for Internet bargains.
According to the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), junk email offers are on the rise around the world. Unfortunately, some countries seem to have a higher concentration of internet con artists. These include the United States, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. This could be due to the fact that their citizens are shopping more and more online. And you know how it is—just pickpocketers are drawn to crowded areas, these spammers know exactly how to target their emails.
Studies show that the most common kinds of fraudulent Internet offers try to sell finance and business opportunities (especially work-at-home arrangements), adult entertainment, leisure and travel deals, computer software, educational opportunities like online classes), and clothes and accessories.
Most of these products and services are outright scams—they’re out to get your credit card number or money, nothing else—or, they’re counterfeit, illegally imported or distributed, or made of shoddy quality. It’s best to buy from established Internet vendors or websites that have been personally referred by a friend you trust. Not from a total stranger who contacted you via email.
2. Spot scam emails.
Spam emails try to make you think that you’ve been personally referred to by a friend or co-worker. Others just hook you in with an irresistible sales pitch, and encourage you to click on a link to read more. Alas, when you do click, you tell the spammer that your address is active. You get more offers and pesky emails, and you’re done for.
You know an email is spam if you don’t recognize the name of the sender, and if the subject line tends to have typos and misspellings. The rock-bottom, unrealistic prices are also a dead give-away—any real offer would be consistent with other deals in the market, because no company would create a product at the risk of bankruptcy. They’re either dangling a cheapo product to get your data or credit card number, or they don’t plan to send you any product at all.
3. Beef up your spam protection.
Some emails have existing spam filters, but you can also get additional filters to beef up your protection. If you’re receiving Spam in your office email, contact your company’s IT representative to install software (chances are, your company will block your attempts to personally download and install programs—it’s a security measure).
Knowledge is power, too. You may want to visit a blog just on spam, All Spammed Up, to keep abreast on spam trends and the latest warnings to consumers.
4. Never, ever reply to a spam.
You may be so annoyed at the spam that you click ‘unsubscribe’ just to get off the damn mailing list. Unfortunately, this only alerts the spammer and verifies that your email address is active. Even if you don’t get mail from that particular address, you can bet that he will use your account to send other offers. Just delete the email and change the filter options (see tip # 3).
5. Protect your email address.
Spammers get their email addresses from public sites. So, be discreet and picky about sharing your email. Ideally, set up a separate email address for joining forums and websites. Read the privacy information before signing up for any group to check if they share your emails with third-party groups. (At the very least they should ask for your permission – uncheck the option ‘get notifications from our partners’ which is really a nice way of saying ‘we’ll give your contact into to our advertisers’).
6. Always check a company’s background before buying.
Is the company an authorized dealer? Let’s say you get an offer about a cheap software, or a software package. Go to the software’s official website—usually, the official distributors are listed. You can also email their customer service to find out. The extra steps are worth it—fake software can crash your system, and may carry viruses.
If there’s no way to visit an official website, check the merchant’s record at the Better Business Bureau or look for customer feedback in their website. Be careful though—spammers can hire somebody to write fake comments on a discussion board or forum. Read the comments with a critical eye and think, ‘Does this sound fake? Do they rave too much? Do the comments sound like they were written by the same person?’
7. Keep your receipts.
If you do buy from an Internet merchant, print a copy of your order number and sales confirmation and keep them.