Internet Fraud: Surfers Beware

Data breaches. Malware and phishing scams. Internet fraud has many forms and we’re all at risk. To start things off, here are some definitions to may or may not be familiar with:

  • Data breaches – when sensitive data (personal or financial information) is leaked from a secure location. Afterward, it can be used in an untrusted environment at a corporate or personal level.
  • Malware – malware is dangerous software that is designed to disable computers and computer systems.
  • Phishing or spoofing – when scammers use fake emails, text messages, or copycat websites to steal your identity or personal information. This data can include credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords.
  • Internet auction fraud – this involves the misrepresentation of a product or non-delivery of merchandise for sale on an internet auction site.
  • Credit card fraud – this occurs when scammers fraudulently obtain money or property through the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card number.

There are some scams that seem to target UW-Madison students and staff more frequently and more effectively than others. The most frequent is the visiting person with a job offer scam. In this scam, the scammer posts a job offer where they will send you a check for a certain amount.  They request you to do something, send some of the money on to a bank account, and keep the rest for yourself as payment. By the time you bank determines the check to be worthless (4-5 days) you have already sent the money to the scammer.

Less frequent, but often more costly, is the you-are-in-trouble scam. The scammer pretends to be some authority — an official from the FBI, IRS, or some local or foreign law enforcement.  The scammer says you are being investigated for some crime that will land you in prison, but they are sympathetic; if you just send them a large sum of money they can start to investigate the real source of the crime and clear your good name. They may have pictures of you (obtained via internet searches). They may even know your parents’ names and addresses (also internet searches).  They may video-chat wearing uniforms and show you embossed paperwork that looks official.  They may spoof the phone number so the call appears to originate from a real law enforcement agency.

Rest assured these are scams.  Police or other authority figures will NEVER demand money over the phone or online.  If you are unsure about the origin of the call, tell them you will look up their phone number on their official website and call them back.  As a police officer, I have no issues with this process. Furthermore, banks have limited time and ability to get your money back.  If you ask your bank to wire money to a foreign bank, you have as little 15 minutes to stop the transaction.  After that, all your bank can do is send a strongly worded email alleging fraud, and ask nicely for the money back.

Please contact your local police agency if you have any thought that there is an attempt to defraud you.  Don’t give out any personal information, and do not send money.  Check with us.  We can help.