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3 Sneaky New Online Scams to Avoid

3 Sneaky New Online Scams to Avoid

By Erika Stalder

Most of us can recognize a shady email or Facebook post when we see one. I mean, how many of us actually know a Nigerian prince, right?

But hackers are pulling fresh tricks to dupe us into parting with our money or privacy. In the past four months alone, instances of malware on mobile phones have doubled, making smartphones a hotbed for wrongdoers. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, 9 million Americans lose their identity to hackers every year.

Don’t want to become a stat? Here are the three new online scams and how to avoid them:

Online Scam: Your Dating Match Is Actually a Fraud.

The scenario:
You’re in search of cuties on Internet dating sites when you meet a handsome U.S. Army serviceman stationed in Iraq. The guy is friendly and open about the war and his post-battle dreams. Best of all, he has a hot mug. What starts as a mere flirtation grows into a deep, personal relationship … in which your new man is comfortable enough to ask you to lend him some money.

How it works: That guy may not be an actual serviceman, but a scammer hoping to work his way from you heart to your wallet. The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) has been notified of this scam hundreds of times in the past six months. The CID says the scammers assume the identity of real-life soldiers, coupling their names and ranks with photos of other soldiers found online. Sometimes, the scammers paint the Army as a downtrodden entity, in which soldiers need pay for Internet connections, leave papers, medical treatment, special laptops, international telephones or a flight home from Iraq or Afghanistan.

How to steer clear: Army CID spokesperson Chris Grey says that the Army has plenty of support programs for soldiers overseas and that an actual soldier would not be making such monetary requests. The CID warns women to be suspicious of the following:

  • Anyone claiming to be a soldier, proposing marriage and asking for financial help early in a new relationship -- especially if it’s someone you haven’t met in person.
  • A new soldier boyfriend claiming that the Army won’t allow him to access his bank accounts or credit cards.
  • Suspect postal addresses. Soldiers serving overseas usually have an APO or FPO mailing address. Don’t send money to a third party or company.

If you think you’re talking with someone who is impersonating a soldier, report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

Online Scam: A Simple Celeb Search Brings You Viruses.

The scenario:
You search online for your favorite celebs, whether it’s to get the latest dirt or find out just how they maintain their bikini bods. Harmless, right? Until your screen freezes and your computer gets slow.

How it works: This latest online scam plants viruses on PCs when gossip seekers search for stars online. Heidi Klum is currently the most dicey celebrity to search on the Web. Searches of “free downloads,” “videos” or “screensavers” coupled with her name stand a 1-in-10 chance of installing malware on otherwise clean PCs.

How to steer clear: Install an antivirus and antispyware program on your computer and devices. Limit widespread Google searches for sexy celeb pics. Instead, search within a well-known Hollywood blog, like PerezHilton.com or OMG.Yahoo.com.

Online Scam: Your New Favorite App Isn’t an App at All.

The scenario:
You just discovered a new addictive game on your phone or downloaded a beautiful wallpaper. Best of all, it’s free! But then you get your phone bill and … whoosh! There goes $1,000. How did this happen?!

How it works: What you really downloaded was a dangerous program in disguise that sends unauthorized texts from your phone and racks up your phone bill. Equally common is a program with which hackers steal your personal information, compromising your identity. Last year, an estimated 4.6 million Android users downloaded a seemingly innocent Star Wars and My Little Pony branded wallpapers to their phones, which collected and sent user data, like subscriber identification and phone numbers, to a site in China.

How to steer clear:
Always download your apps from a trusted source, like the iTunes store or the Android Marketplace. Apple and Google have a tough process for accepting new apps, and they police their stores for malware problems.

Have you ever fallen for an online scam? Share your story in our message board below.

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Erika Stalder has written about technology for Gizmodo.com, Wired.com and Wired magazine. The author of five nonfiction books for teens also pens a teen advice column on ABCFamily.com.


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