Beware of Scammers Lurking Online

by Francine Huff

Alivia Briggs thought she found the perfect dress to wear to the prom last spring and wasted no time ordering it from a website recommended by a friend. But when she received the dress, it barely resembled the pink mermaid gown with detailed silver beading that she had seen in the photos.

“The appliques on it looked kind of like these doilies, maybe the kind that you see on your grandma’s nightstand,” says the 18-year-senior at Austin High School in Decatur, Ala. “They were like these iron on doilies and these little beads like from the craft store. It looked like something I definitely could have made myself.”

Electronics, Headphones and Sneakers

Briggs is among the growing number of teens who have been targeted by online scams involving shopping, dating, scholarships, employment, anti-virus software, tax refunds and identity theft, among other schemes.

Last year teens lost $8.1 million to online scams, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “2015 Internet Crime Report.” Overall, Americans lost $1.07 billion to internet scams, but the FBI estimates that only 15% of cases of internet fraud are ever reported.

At the National Consumers League, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, more than half the fraud complaints received from teens aged 13 to 19 involve Internet merchandising scams, according to John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud.

Victims are “people looking to buy things online, often at a discount, and they find that what they paid for never shows up or it was just a ploy to get their credit card information,” says Breyault. “Many of the complaints involve electronics, cellphones, headphones, fashion and sneakers. There also are a number of complaints with buying pets online.”

While Briggs did receive a dress in the mail, she immediately requested a refund of the $230 purchase price. At first, the company based in China offered her a discount and tried to convince her the dress was fine. But after reporting the fraud to her bank and threatening legal action, the retailer refunded her money weeks later.

Briggs tweeted about her experience and received national attention from a variety of TV shows and publications. She cautions other teens to avoid purchasing items from unfamiliar websites, and to be especially wary of deals that sound too good to be true. “This year [for prom] I’ll probably go look for a used dress or rent, but buying online is not too smart,” she says. “You don’t know what you’ll get.”

Breyault says consumers should shop around and compare prices for the same item. “If the price you’re being quoted is way below what it normally is, chances are it’s a scam.” He also says it’s important to understand the return and complaint policies at online retailers before making purchases.

As more people of all ages flock to social networking sites and other online hangouts, scam artists are having a field day targeting victims. Some of these scams involve trying to dupe people of their money. In many cases, scammers are located overseas.

Recently, police in India raided nine large call center operations where workers were trying to scam American taxpayers into revealing their bank account information so they could steal money, according to the Washington Post. The workers were threatening the victims with jail time if they didn’t pay tax bills that they never owed.

Financial Fraudsters

Often schemes to defraud consumers involve requests for wire transfers of money. “A money transfer service is a great way to send money quickly and conveniently to friends and loved ones. However, it is not intended for use when doing business with a stranger,” according to Western Union Consumer Protection.

Do not send wire transfers to individuals you have never met in person or for an unconfirmed emergency situation. Western Union also advises against sending money transfers for rental deposits or payments, charity donations, employment opportunities, online purchases, tax payments or anti-virus software. A so-called 419 fraud is an  advance-fee scam, where you are asked to help transfer money out of another country – such as Iraq, South Africa or somewhere in west Africa – in return for a percentage of the money that you help to transfer. Again, experts advise that you should never send your bank details, transfer money or agree to travel anywhere in response to one of these scams.

The FBI’s “2015 Internet Crime Report” discusses the threat of ransomware, a type of malware often delivered through phishing emails, which are emails that may seem harmless enough, but are often meant to get sensitive information from you, like passwords and even credit card numbers. Often, these emails look legit and try to get you to click on a link, which can give scammers access to your computer and your contact list. Ransomware can quickly encrypt computer files, in essence holding them hostage. Scam artists then demand payment in exchange for releasing the files.

Not all cases of online fraud necessarily involve money. Some scams, like the catfish scheme involving football player Manti Te’o, are aimed at luring victims into fake romantic relationships, much like the scenarios featured on the TV show “Catfish.”

While playing football at the University of Notre Dame, Te’o was lured into a fake online relationship with a woman who did not exist and then supposedly died. An acquaintance of Te’o, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers, later admitted to being behind the hoax. Teens using social networks and dating apps need to be cautious about revealing their personal information and trusting people they’ve never met.

Other online scams are aimed at stealing personal identities. It seems like every few weeks we hear hacking reports of personal data being stolen, including from government agencies.

“Unfortunately teens are not immune to identity theft or scams and in fact, they can be a prime target for thieves looking to steal personal identifiable information,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “It’s important that parents and schools open the discussion about the potential dangers of being online, particularly when it comes to social media and online games, and that teens understand the repercussions of their actions.”

Related Links

Conversation Starters

What are some different types of online fraud? What is phishing? Why have online scams become so prevalent? How can you protect against these various schemes?

What is the Nigerian Prince scam? Have you heard of it? Using the “Related Links” tab, research this fraud and discuss what you’ve learned with a partner.

Do you have personal experience with online fraud? What happened? How did you resolve the situation? Share your story in the ‘Comment’ section of this article.

5 comments on “Beware of Scammers Lurking Online

  1. I think this article is very serious because we as teens lose a lot of money over these scams. We lost over millions of dollars on pointless scams. This one girl bought a dress and it wasn’t what they said it was and they tried giving her a discount and to take some money off but she wanted her money back and they finally got it back to her, but it took a while to. Some of the scams include sneakers, headphones, and different types of electronics. These items are very easy to fake because it doesn’t take much to make fakes these days. The people that sell the fakes said that they get people from 13-19 years old. This is ridiculous because we should know to buy from resourceful websites.

    • Dear Kevin, thank you for your response! As you mentioned, online scammers operate through offering a range of fraudulent products and services. I also agree with the idea that it is absolutely essential that cases of online scams are minimised if not completely eradicated.

      In my opinion, no single party involved in a transaction is completely responsible for ensuring the safety of the transaction. I instead believe each of the involved parties in any transaction can take certain measures to minimise scams and maximise security in transactions in the future.

      The government must make stronger laws against such scams, and try their best to crack down on more popular scams. Governments must also run advertisements in public interest, educating the general public on scammers and ensure that cases with regards to online scams are takes seriously by the police and courts. Lastly, the government could also implement stronger regulations for online businesses, and only offer select businesses the license to perform online transactions.

      Consumers themselves must also take a certain degree of responsibility while making any transactions online. As mentioned in the article, while the 8.1 million dollars lost by teens in 2015 is certainly significant, it is only a small fraction of the 1.07 billion dollars all Americans lost to scams through the year. This highlights that regardless of their age, several Americans are falling prey to such online scams. Several online scams can be avoided by remembering a very common phrase: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. In my opinion, it is absolutely essential that consumers keep this in mind while searching the Internet for the ‘best deals’. Consumers should also only use websites generally considered reliable, or websites they have had very good experiences with in the past, to ensure legitimacy of products.

      Lastly, some degree of responsibility does fall on the sellers as well. In my country, India, for example, the e-commerce market was failing to reach its potential due to a large percentage of the population being afraid of scams. This was the reason Flipkart (a major competitor to Amazon in India, with a majority stake now owned by Walmart) came up with the ‘cash on delivery’ option, so Indians felt safer in making larger transactions through online platforms. In my opinion, this is a great example of how sellers can take it upon themselves to ensure they are trusted by consumers. The internationally implemented ‘full cash back guarantee if unsatisfied’ policy has also allowed other Amazon to gain the lion’s share in the e commerce market globally. These are just some examples of how r-commerce companies which focus on consumer’s security can thrive in the market.

      Along with the three parties directly involved in the transaction, other parties that may impact the transaction in any way must also be held accountable, and must take actions to ensure safety of any potential transactions. An example of this could be advertising platforms, such as Facebook. After settling for an undisclosed fee in a lawsuit involving false advertising through their platform, Facebook has taken far stronger measures to ensure the authenticity of advertised products, including the addition of a ‘report’ button on advertisements, so fraudulent companies can be caught and stopped from advertising on their platform. Services such as PayPal must also ensure transactions are safe and secure, further adding to safety in online transactions.

      Today, with 14.3% of total sales in the US coming through e-commerce (figures from the US commerce department), it is almost undeniable that the e-commerce sector is a significant one – not only in the United States but globally. It is therefore absolutely essential that some of these actions are taken by all 3 parties, to ensure the platform can continue to grow safely and steadily.

  2. the Nigerian prince fraud are letters that a stranger send to people asking for transfers demanding “taxes paying” and various fees. After all of this the bank account of the people they robbed went all empty and they even steal their identity leaving the people with nothing. I didn’t heard before of this fraud but i think is a good lesson for all the people that believe everything they read on the internet. I think is a very interesting topic because this happens very often and with the advance of the technology it could get worse so everyone should be careful and know who you’re sending your personal information.

  3. Online is such an unsafe place you can’t trust anyone it’s to easy to hack into some one account or to fake a person or to steal someones money. So many teens have been scammed and 15% of them haven’t been reported. Most of the time when there getting scammed is when they order something and the thing they buy never shows up because it’s a scam and now they have their credit card info

  4. What are some different types of online fraud? Identity theft and credit card fraud.
    What is phishing? Why have online scams become so prevalent? How can you protect against these various schemes? Phishing is a type of cyber crime in which a user tries tricks a person into getting them to share personal information like usernames and passwords. Online scams have become so prevalent as more and more people use the internet each day which results in more targets for cybercrime. You can protect against these by never sharing you personal information online.
    ◦Do you have personal experience with online fraud? What happened? How did you resolve the situation? No personal experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *