Internet Safety

What is internet fraud?

Generally, any type of fraud scheme that uses one or more components of the internet - such as chat rooms, email, message boards or web sites - to present fraudulent solicitations to prospective victims, to conduct fraudulent transactions, or to transmit the proceeds of fraud to financial institutions or to others connected with the scheme.

What are the major types of online internet fraud?

  • Auctions and retail schemes, online auctions being the number one avenue for internet fraud
  • Business opportunity/"work-at-home" schemes
  • Identity theft and fraud
  • Investment schemes
  • Credit card offers
  • Credit repair
  • Vacation prize promotions
  • Nigerian money offers - This scheme involves someone claiming to be a Nigerian official, who promises big profits in exchange for help moving large sums of money out of their country
  • Advance fee loans
  • Internet access services
  • Health and diet scams
  • Free goods, like long distance phone cards, computers, electronics, etc.
  • Cable descrambler kits

Filing a complaint about internet fraud

You can file complaints about specific types of fraud with the following agencies:

  • Commodities Fraud: Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)
  • Securities Fraud: SEC Enforcement Division Complaint Center or your state securities regulators

If you think that you've been the victim of a fraud scheme that involved the internet, you can also file a complaint online with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint project of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Further Information

Government Web sites

U.S. Department of Justice

Internet Fraud Complaint Center

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Securities and Exchange Commission

Nongovernmental Web sites

Vermont Better Business Bureau

Internet Fraud Watch

Internet ScamBusters

National Cyber Security Alliance

Precautions You Can Take to Secure Personal and Credit Information

  • Keep your personal information private
  • Be especially careful about online communications with someone who conceals his true identity
  • Use a secure browser
  • Use inexpensive filtering software to filter programs to protect your family from inappropriate sites
  • Pay your bills online with credit card instead of using personal checks
  • Review your telephone bill and other bills and challenge any charges that you don't recognize

Precautions You Can Take When Conducting Business Online

  • Beware of offers that sound too good to be true
  • Watch out for "advance fee" demands
  • Take your time in making investment decisions, researching the potential investment opportunity thoroughly
  • Have an attorney or accountant look at any proposed contracts
  • Call every supplier or customer of the company and verify that they really do business with the company
  • Check out the people running the company
  • Contact your local consumer protection agency and the consumer protection agency in the city where the company is headquartered for more information about the company
  • Interview business references in person at the place of business if possible and try and get a number of names to choose from. This will help you avoid talking with people who were paid to give favorable responses.
  • Get earnings claims in writing when considering Internet-related business opportunities
  • Get references on any travel companies and get details about the trip in writing, including the cancellation policy
  • Consult with health-care professionals before buying any "cure-all" that claims to cure an ailment quickly or offers easy solutions to a serious illness

Precautions You Should Take When Shopping Online

  • Keep your password(s) private
  • Don't judge item by initial appearances posted online
  • Check out the seller, especially when shopping online auction sites
  • Shop with companies that you know or at least know who you are dealing with; make sure that the company is legitimate
  • Get all the details involved before making an Internet transaction, such as complete descriptions, total price, return policy, etc.
  • Ask your credit card issuer about "substitute" or "single-use" credit card numbers - these allow you to use your credit card without putting your real account number online
  • Only share credit card information when buying from a company that you trust
  • Pay by credit or charge card online, because you have a legal right to dispute charges for goods and services that were never ordered or received
  • Keep a record for proof of the transaction