Avoid these internet scams

Too good to be true?
Confused woman on computer

You know the deal

"OMG! What are you doing in this Facebook video?" Perplexed and alarmed, you immediately follow the link. Update my Flash Player? OK. And they have you. You've been scammed into downloading malware that will soon deliver your personal and financial information directly to your attackers... unless you know what to look out for.

This is just one of the increasingly clever and insidious schemes waiting for the naive and unsuspecting on the internet. For the unprepared, scammers lurk in every digital corner, scouring Facebook walls for personal info, luring users to phishing sites, spoofing IRS emails and exploiting and looting at every available opportunity. Learn how to avoid these all-too-popular scams and why you will never ever win a free XBox from a popup ad. Never. Seriously, stop clicking them.

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Congratulations! You are our 1,000,000th visitor!

Yeah, 1,000,000th victim is more like it. Any offer involving free prizes and gifts — especially in exchange for taking a survey, claiming a prize, liking a post or downloading an app — should be met with suspicion... deep, unwavering suspicion. These offers for free gifts and prizes will at best, harvest a name and email and at worst, download malware or redirect you to a phishing site that will compromise your computer and personal accounts.

A particularly sinister version of this has surfaced recently involving what is called ransomware. The user is enticed to click a link and tricked into downloading malicious software that freezes the computer and displays an official-looking warning accusing the user of violating federal law and threatening legal action. It often claims to be recording the user's activities using audio and video and discourages restarting the computer. To release the computer, you simply pay the fine using prepaid money services. Once paid, it continues to operate behind the scenes and can compromise your accounts.

A similar and aggressive version of this also exists in your inbox. A user will receive an email claiming that their bank password has been compromised, instructing them to click a link to reset it or that an unexpected UPS package could not be delivered, and they should click to claim it. Similarly, they may also be asked to confirm flight reservations they never made. They may even receive an email from spammers masquerading as the IRS claiming they've already filed taxes and to click for more info.

Never "click here" in an unsolicited email. Sometimes, these spam emails can look quite convincing, but it is always best to err on the side of caution and make any inquiries through trusted websites and support services.

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Mystery shoppers, the lottery and online dating

What do these things have in common? They're all variations and spinoffs of a scam originally involving one now very notorious and unfortunate Nigerian prince.

Would-be mystery shoppers are asked to rate different facets of a business including the ease with which money can be wired from that location. The user pays and is compensated with a counterfeit cashier's check.

In the lottery version, the National Sweepstakes Bureau contacts you to supervise the transfer of your winnings. Lucky you, but there are no lottery winnings and there certainly isn't a National Sweepstakes Bureau.

Online dating scams are a modern variant of the Grandpa overseas scam. Expect your whirlwind romance to end abruptly with a hefty withdrawal from your checking and a business deal gone sour or overseas disaster. Avoid this romantic entanglement by reconsidering potential mates who immediately throw out the L-word and are traveling abroad.

Up next: More internet scams to avoid >>

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