One way scammers work through the internet, or in any medium, is to present a plausible reason for you to give them money or the information they seek.
However, it is relatively easy to defend yourself against them when you use a little bit of common sense in dealing with strangers.
While every scam is different, there are warning signs that will tell you that the person you are dealing with is not on the level. Let's look at a few of these.
1. You are asked for your banking information. This often shows up as an e-mail from your bank saying there has been a security breach and you have to change your password.
Clicking the link provided will take you to a login screen that looks just like the web page for online banking. You enter your username and password to log in and are asked to enter a new password. End of story... you are now safe.
You're not, though. What you have just done is gone to a web page that only looks like your bank's page and you have just given the scammer your bank card number and password.
They immediately go online to your account and transfer all of the money in it to their own.
Chartered banks in Canada all have a policy that they will not contact customers through e-mail. Think of any dealings you've had with your bank and you'll probably remember that they have never even asked for your e-mail address.
Anyone claiming to be the bank in an e-mail is a criminal and you should govern yourself accordingly. Never click a link in an e-mail claiming to be from your bank.
2. Someone you may know slightly and with whom you have exchanged e-mail correspondence before sends you an e-mail telling you they are travelling in England and were robbed.
They've lost everything, including their passport. Can you lend them a bit of money to tide them over until they get back home again? Since they won't have access to e-mail, could you just wire the funds to the following mail box?
Unfortunately, this is a rather common scam, where someone has broken into that person's e-mail account, commonly a Yahoo Mail account, and sent this message out in their name.
This is particularly nasty, since the most likely to act on this message is someone nice enough to help out a friend or acquaintance.
If you get one of these, ask yourself whether you think the person would actually ask you personally to help out in such a situation. How well do you know the person in question? Are they really travelling? (And, why are there so many people robbed in England?)
Chances are the e-mail is not legitimate.
3. You receive an e-mail saying you've won a contest, and to get your prize you need to pay the duties and customs fees to bring it across the border. What happens is that you pay the "fees" to someone and never see either the prize or your money again.
First, remember that U.S. laws prohibit Canadians from entering contests in the U.S.
There is no way you could win a prize and have it shipped from the U.S. Never believe anyone who contacts you to say you have won a prize and there are fees to collect it.
Of course, there are other scams. We'll consider these in a later column.
So keep your eyes open for these red flag moments. A little vigilance will go a long way to keeping your money with you, where it's supposed to be.
Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.