Fifteen Ways to Spot An Internet Bandit
Daniel J. Barrett
From Bandits on the Information Superhighway
Copyright 1996, O'Reilly &V Associates, Inc.
This article was posted on December 29, 1996.
- Hidden name or address. Don't conduct business with users unless they
reveal their name, address, and phone number. Beware of users
who try to buy or sell things using an anonymous email address
*like firstname.lastname@example.org) or a post office box.
- Uncheckable references. "As seen on Donahue!" "The subject
of hundreds of newspaper articles!" These credentials sound
impressive, but notice that you aren't given enough information
(dates, newspaper names) to look them up.
- Too much talk about money, not enough
about the deal. Scammers try
to blind you with dreams of becoming rich, so you won't notice
the fine print. Watch out for bogus "profit charts"
promising easy wealth.
- "This is not a scam." Scammers say this all the time. They might
even cite specific laws that "prove" their legality.
Don't fall for this trick. A legitimate business doesn't spend
time "convincing" you of its honesty.
- Requests for your credit card number. Don't send your credit card number to anybody
by email. If your mail software supports encryption, this can
help protect the number, but it may not be foolproof. Some encryption
techniques are better than others.
- Pyramid shape. Are you asked to send money to (say) five people,
who each send money to five more people, who each send money
to five more people, and so on? Then you are very likely looking
at an illegal pyramid scheme.
- Spamming. People who post huge numbers of identical articles online are
forcing you to pay the bill.
- Too much knowledge about you. Take notice if a newfound "Net friend"
suddenly knows details about you that you have not revealed.
- LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS and punctuation!!! Be skeptical of ads that shout at you, like
"MIRACLE CURE!!!" or "Learn how to make BIG $$$$$
MONEY in NO TIME AT ALL!!!!!
- Pay before you play. The details of the offer are kept hidden until
after you pay a fee. But what happens if the details turn out
to be junk? You lose. Remember that "money-back-guarantees"
from strangers may be worthless.
- Hidden costs. Watch out for ads that shout "it won't cost you a penny
to get started" and then quietly charge you an "entrance
- "Secret" method available
"only to a limited number of people." A typical scam ad reaches thousands or millions
of users. That's a strange way to reveal a secret! Scammers accept
a "limited number" of responses so they can close their
business quickly and run away with people's money.
- Requests for your password. Never reveal your password to anybody. Your
system administrator never needs to ask you for it. If somebody
asks you to change your password to a known word for"system
testing," be immediately suspicious; this is a well-known
- Unsolicited email. If you get email from a stranger out of the
blue, offering to give or sell you something, treat it with suspicion.
- Inappropriate questions. If a "Net friend" you hardly know
starts asking very personal questions or tries to borrow money
from you, be on your guard.