A Valentine’s Day e-card that infects your computer, cons who pose as online suitors and a futuristic software program that tricks you into revealing personal information are just a few of the hazards lurking online. The Washington Attorney General’s Office urges Internet users to be skeptical and take precautions to avoid Cupid’s arrow from hitting their wallets or poisoning their PCs.
“Few of us are fortunate to meet our future Mr. or Mrs. Right next door, so it’s not surprising the Internet is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to connect,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “But use caution. Love may be blind, but you must keep your eyes open to avoid online scammers who steal your money or identity along with your heart.”
Lovesick computers: Just when you think you’ve been bitten by the love bug, it turns out you’ve caught a computer virus. The FBI issued an alert this week about the Storm Worm, which sends millions of e-mails advertising an e-card link. If you click on the link, your computer could be turned into a botnet capable of being controlled by a criminal to spread spam, infect other computers or steal personal information.
Be wary of any e-mail received from an unknown sender. Don't click on these links and be sure to update your virus protection software.
If you think an e-card message is real, go to the official URL of the stated provider (eg: www.hallmark.com or www.bluemountain.com) and enter your specific greeting card code. Better yet, contact your friend or relative directly to confirm they sent you an e-card before you attempt to view it.
Mysterious online suitors: You think you’ve met your true love online. But do you really know who you’re chatting with? International criminals sometimes pose as romantic suitors to entice unsuspecting individuals to commit fraud. You may be asked to cover your would-be lover’s travel expenses by wiring money or cashing a fake check or money order.
Reshipping scams begin when someone asks you to receive a package then mail the contents somewhere else, usually overseas. You think you’re helping providing items for your beloved’s family, or assisting them with a business deal. What you don’t realize, however, is you’re actually shipping goods purchased with a stolen credit card.
Cons often find victims on dating Web sites or in chatrooms. Any of these signs may be red flags that your Romeo or Juliet isn’t who you think:
- The person wants to continue the conversation via e-mail or on an instant messenger service where the conversation won’t be monitored.
- The profile photograph is extraordinarily attractive and professional quality.
- Your new friend professes his or her love for you in a matter of days.
- He or she immediately asks for your address in order to send you gifts.
- Your suitor is reluctant to answer hard questions or provides inconsistencies, a warning sign you may be corresponding with several scammers pretending to be the same person.
Flirty computer bots: Your next scintillating chat may be with a computer, not a human. A couple months ago, we warned you about a Russian Web site called CyberLover advertising a software tool that it claims can simulate flirtatious chatroom exchanges. Security experts expressed concerns that Internet users could be lured to provide personal information such as their address and birth date. The software, so far available only in Russian, was scheduled to go on sale just after Valentine’s Day.
Evaluating dating services: On a related note, the Better Business Bureau recently announced a 73 percent increase in complaints about dating services between 2005 and 2006, reaching 2,525 complaints. Complaints received in 2007 are expected to break another record.
“Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on online dating sites alone every year and as the popularity of the industry increases so does the number of complaints BBB receives,” BBB spokesman Steve Cox said in a news release. “Whether you’re willing to pay thousands for a matchmaker or $50 a month for a Web site membership, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into and exactly how to get out of it.”
We agree. Always understand the contract terms and cancellation policy and, if possible, sign up for a free trial before you commit to paying. Take steps to avoid physical harm, as well as crimes such as identity theft that result from someone obtaining your address or other personal information. Read AG McKenna's tips to help you choose a dating service.