Originally created 02/09/02

Cyberscams prey on unwary Net surfers



The Internet age has spawned a breed of high-tech hucksters itching to scam their way into consumers' wallets.

They're called "dot cons."

Georgia residents were fleeced for more than $2.2 million last year as a result of online fraud and identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The state ranked 13th in the nation in Internet fraud complaints - almost a quarter of which were credit card fraud - and seventh in the nation in online identity theft victims.

"It's definitely a growing concern for us," said Derek Rill, commission spokesman. "We're seeing more and more activity on the Internet."

Using complaints to Consumer Sentinel, a consumer fraud database, as its guide, the commission has identified the top 10 cons facing consumers who use the Internet:

10. Health care: "Miracle drug" is proven to cure serious health problems - but no medical science backs it up.

9. Investments: "We guarantee huge returns!" What are they, wizards? No one can predict the market with 100 percent accuracy.

8. Work from home: "Be your own boss and earn big bucks." What, licking stamps and stuffing envelopes? These business opportunities are generally bogus.

7. Travel: Get a luxurious trip at a bargain-basement price! Receive low-quality accommodations, pay hidden charges or get no trip at all!

6. Pyramid schemes: A glamorous career in sales; recruit people to work under you. Too bad products are sold only to distributors such as yourself, so there's no way to make money.

5. Web cramming: Get a free, custom-designed Web site for a 30-day trial period, with "no further obligation." If you don't cancel in time - and it's a real adventure trying to do so - the heavy charges begin.

4. International modem dialing: Get free access to adult material by downloading a "viewer" or "dialer" computer program. Of course, it's not really free. Your modem is disconnected, then reconnected to the Internet via an international long-distance number.

3. Credit card fraud: View adult images online for free - just give us your credit card number so we know you're 18. See where this is going?

2. Internet access services: The check they send you looks like free money. But if you cash it, you're in a long-term contract for their Web services, with big penalties for cancellation.

1. Internet auctions: Shop in a virtual marketplace with a huge selection of products. Get fleeced by savvy operators who send an item that is less valuable than promised, or nothing at all. Have fun trying to track them down afterward.

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.