How to outsmart Internet scammers

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A BYU faculty member listed an exercise machine on KSL for $200 and got an offer. Typical of online auction sites.

The faculty member became suspicious when the potential buyer sent a check for $1,500 and directed the faculty member to deliver the machine and the extra cash to his representative, or “picker,” in Utah. This faculty member followed her instincts and turned the case over to University Police, which saved her roughly $1,500 and prevented her from becoming the victim of the scam.

Sadly, more often than not, Internet scams like this go unnoticed and unreported because the perpetrators are often out of the country.

These scams are so common that police don’t even investigate 90 percent of them, said Lt. Arnold Lemmon, public information officer for University Police. According to Lemmon, the main focus of the police is to help the victims avoid getting scammed by familiarizing people with the telltale signs of Internet scams.

“What happens is, had she gone to her bank, she would have deposited this check and they would have accepted it. She would have taken $200 cash and then she would have (delivered) the cash to the ‘picker’ through the Western Union track,” Lemmon said. “And two weeks later, her bank calls and says, ‘I’m sorry there is no such account.’ And then this guy has got $1,300 in his pocket and this person is out $1,500. And this happens every day.”

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, Utahns lose $3,006,580.27 on average each year to Internet scams and students aged 20–29 are responsible for $641,267.14, or 21 percent, of total money lost.

Online auction sites do have some guards to protect their victims from scams such as a buyer watch list. But there are some who expect more from these sites.

Ed Carter, a communications and law professor, said he thinks expecting Internet auction sites to look into scams would be like expecting advertisers to check out their clients’ claims.

“We have to be careful about imposing any kind of liability on Internet providers as it is not really their responsible and they don’t have the means to check out those claims,” Carter said. “KSL facilitated the communication, but it isn’t necessarily their responsibility or fault that people get scammed there. Those scams have always been around, and (the Internet) is a new medium for scammers to find victims.”

The best way to deal with scams is to avoid them before they start.

“Online scams are a big and growing issue, and we need a solution,” Carter said. “What we really need is media education and common sense so that people are taught what to look for and they know not to fall for these scams.”

Greg Kapitan, president of a credit card processing company, ASAP Merchant Services, advises people to be safe on the Internet by being smart about where they are sending their money.

“As a general rule, ask for some local references or local business that they are currently working with, from someone that you are looking to do business with if you are looking on the Internet for a credit card processor,” Kapitan said. “In regards to protection for businesses on the Internet, it is important to use a credit card processor that uses a secure SSL system combined with the security of gateway such as Authorize.net.”

People should also reference the Buyer Beware List put out by the Utah Department of Commerce before doing business with companies online.

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