Use of the web as a venue for commercial enterprise is growing daily; there are tens-of-thousands of places and ways and things upon which to spend your money. Money, however, always attracts crooks, and the Internet is no exception. Just as we provide tips on personal safety and security for real life money handling, we submit the following for your consideration when using the net to conduct transactions:
- Check your statements for unauthorized transactions, and contact the account holder promptly to report any you find.
- The capabilities of the net enable anyone to set up a site claiming affiliation with a well-known international or national merchant; do business only with reputable vendors.
- Look at the link for any site where you intend to shop; a URL like
is probably NOT the on-line catalog for "National Brand Name". Make sure the site you are visiting is the real site of the vendor with which you wish to do business.
- Obtain links only from dependable sources; links featured on major commercial services or a long-standing link on multiple search engines is probably more reputable than one you find on Joe-Don-Billy-Bob's Double-Secret Home Page & On-Line Mall. A link found on a message in a newsgroup should be verified via search engine before you use it to make purchases.
Copy, copy to disk, or screen-print the link of any link where you plan to or do conduct a transaction; this will enable you to reconcile your bill as well as providing a starting place if the transaction turns sour.
- Beware of "get-rich-quick" opportunities. The adage "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" applies to the Internet. Probably the only people who will "get-rich-quick" are those sponsoring the scheme or selling the plan/offering/program.
- Ignore and delete spam e-mail offers to make money fast. If it's unsolicited e-mail offering you the "opportunity of a lifetime" it's spam, and often "scam". Just delete spam without reading. And here's a tip from the CIAC Email Spamming Countermeasures bulletin:
- "DO NOT send "remove" messages to a spammer. It simply validates your E-Mail address for future spammings."
Many people who send unsolicited commercial email (UCE) act very apologetic about taking your time or clogging your in-box. They include specific instructions on how to unsubscribe from their list. What you're really doing if you send an unsubscribe message is notifying them that you exist - and they will send you more spam...lots more! Don't fall for their ploy and try to "unsubscribe". Resist the urge. Just delete the email.
Another related ploy is to start their message stating that their message is in reply to an inquiry you made about their product when visiting a website. You rack your brain trying to remember when it was that you did a silly thing like that... If you can't remember, then it's likely you never did it. Delete their mail.
Note: If you are selling an item via an Internet or Usenet classifieds page, be sure to only agree to COD methods like "UPS Cash Only" that prevent the merchandise recipient from presenting something like a fradulent cashier's check as payment. Fraud like this DOES happen.
If you're interested in insight into how various con artists work, try the FTC's The "Nigerian" SCAM website. Other good links are Scam Busters and National Fraud Information Center.
Here are tips the Federal Trade Commission offers to help you avoid losing money to an illegal pyramid scheme or a fraudulent multi-level marketing plan:
|Avoid any plan that offers commissions for recruiting additional distributors. |
Beware of plans that ask new distributors to spend money on high-priced inventory. These plans can collapse quickly - and also may be illegal pyramids in disguise.
Be cautious of plans that claim you'll make money through continued growth of your "downline" - the commissions on sales made by new distributors you recruit - instead of through sales you make yourself.
Beware of plans that promise enormous earnings or claim to sell miracle products. Just because a promoter of a plan makes a claim doesn't mean it's true! Ask the plan's promoter to back up the claims with hard evidence.
Beware of shills - "decoy" references that the promoter pays to describe fictional success in earning money through the plan.
Don't pay or sign any contracts in an "opportunity meeting" or any other high-pressure situation. Take your time to think over a decision to join. Talk it over with your spouse, an accountant, or a lawyer, or a knowledgeable friend who isn't involved in the business.
Do your homework! Check with your local Better Business Bureau and state Attorney General about any plan you're considering, especially if the claims about your potential earnings or the product sound too good to be true.
Here's the location for a list of the FTC's "E-Commerce and the Internet" bulletins:
For more information from the FTC regarding pyramid and frauduletn multi-level marketing schemes, see
Don't Get Burned... By a Pyramid Scheme!
For every legitimate enterprise, there is some scam artist with a way to subvert it for personal gain. If you're always careful to collect and destroy your credit card receipt carbons, then you should also be careful about conducting business on the net. Be a smart AND SAFE shopper!
Notes: Email about suspicious claims, pyramid schemes, or suspected fraud that you received via email should be directed to The Federal Trade Commission at: email@example.com