If it sounds too good to be true

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Internet is a powerful communications tool, but like anything good, it is open to abuse.

Older people are among the biggest users of the 'net, keeping in touch with friends and relatives via e-mail, thanks to easy-to-use software and fast connections that leave the most impatient of us little to complain about.

Unfortunately, many of the new users are more vulnerable to scams, with life savings to protect and living on fixed incomes.

But online criminals are among the most innovative crooks, and even the most Internet-savvy among us can be fooled once in a while.

If you have had an e-mail account for a few years, chances are you've seen your share of scam spam e-mails -- advance fee loans, business opportunities, charity scams, credit card loss protection, fake check scams, government grants, "phishing" identity theft, job scams, travel fraud, pyramids and multilevel marketing, software, drugs, scholarship scams, work-at-home schemes and many others.

One of the more common scams is the "international lottery" scam, and the information superhighway is delivering it to McCook, according to the McCook Police Department.

According to Sgt.Owen J. McPhillips, who specializes in computer crime, a local resident recently received a letter from "Euromilliones Loteria International" advising her that she had won $750,210, and that to claim the prize, she need only fill out the included form and fax it to a specified international telephone number.

The 'Lottery Payments Processing Form" included spaces for the prospective victim's bank name, account number and routing number, and the declaration to be signed contained language which could be interpreted as a debit authorization.

Others have been swindled by the same method, McPhillips said. In one instance, a reluctant victim who was a senior citizen was advised that financial aid was available to pay the winner's fees. He received a check for $946, with instructions to cash it and wire the money to a "holding company." The victim did so, and the check bounced, leaving him owing his bank nearly a thousand dollars.

"Needless to say, he collected no 'winnings,'" McPhillips said.

"If you receive such a letter, ask yourself: did I ENTER a foreign lottery? And, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true," McPhillips said.

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