scamLet’s not beat around the bush, here.   We love the Internet and how it is revolutionizing shopping  (among other things).   But, as with most of life, some of the best things also have a dark side and online scams are pretty dark.    They are designed to fool consumers into thinking they are getting something, when in most cases they are just getting ripped off.    The good news is that online scams are avoidable and are rarely , if ever, fatal  (although a few computers have been wiped out by them).    The scammers prey upon people’s ignorance, trust and greed.   So it follows that the best protection is to educate yourself a bit, verify and don’t succumb to deals that seem too good to be true.    As part of the education part, here’s a list of some of the worst online scams this year.

LIST OF THE 21 WORST SCAMS

1. Online Pharmacies – Often sell fake or reduced dosage versions of popular pharmaceuticals.

2. Computer Cleaning/Repair  –  If you download it onto your computer, it may often contain an .exe file that will infect and wreak havoc in your computer…….. and your life.   If you are having serious concerns about your computer working correctly, check out Bob Rankin’s website for competent and free advice.

3. Money Laundering –   A company or person claims to have a large sum of money that they want to place in your bank account temporarily.   They offer you a cut of the deposit…but then the real cut comes when they bleed your account dry.

4. Award/Grant/Loan –  There are lots of variations on the “you are a winner” scam that has been around for decades.   Your are told you won or have been selected for something.   It turns out that you have been selected to be a mark for an unsavory transaction that will not go well for you if you accept.

5. Anti-Aging or other miracle cures –  Again, this is an oldie but a baddie, still.   Scammers are appealing to people’s fear of getting old with all sorts of pills, creams, manuals and other overpriced, ineffective cures.   They are banking on the placebo effect.  (if you don’t know what that is, you should look it up.  It is important stuff to know)

6. Dead or Stranded Relative/Friend –  It usually begins with an urgent sounding email where a friend or relative is stranded in a country and needs quick cash or a long-lost relative has passed away and is leaving you some money.   Both will cost you if you don’t verify the stories directly by phone or in person.

7.  Fake Government Web Sites –  that promise to give you money, grants, jobs or other things that may seem attractive to you.    Remember,  very few government websites charge money for information and they even more rarely ask you for personal information like bank accounts, credit cards, passport  or social security numbers.

8.  Pet Delivery –  offers of rare or obscure pets at ridiculously low prices.   The catch:  a tranportation fee of some sort.    Be assured, the only thing being transported is your cash….out of the country.

9.  Work from Home –  Most legitimate offers for home-based jobs require little, if any, upfront money.   Three words:   verify, verify, verify.   Plus, check out this useful blog about how to avoid work-at-home scams.

10.  Charitable Donations…especially to address a global disaster.   Everyone loves to help out people who got dealt a bum hand by nature.   But some appeals for assistance will lead you only to a personal disaster.   If you receive an email solicitation for a donation, the odds are that it will direct you to a fake website.  Give only to well known charities listed at guidestar.org.

11.  Weight Loss/Diets –  This is a biggie and has been around for so long that we lose weight just calculating all of the weight loss schemes out there.    They are all appealing because they make it look as though others have succeeded.   But be aware that without lifestyle changes,  the only fat that melts away is whatever surplus existed in your checking account.  If any of the ones that you are considering are included on this list of fad diets, then steer clear.

12.  Property Rental –  Usually found on an online classified list like Craigslist.   A great property offered at a fraction of its rental market value because of some plausible story by the owner, e.g.  a short-term gig or is undergoing renovation.   You send the deposit and then learn that the “owner” only owns your money and nothing else.  Similarly, timeshare fraud uses these tactics to either get you to sell your timeshare (only to learn that you’ve lost an upfront fee they charged you.

13.  Free Online Movies –  if you have to download a program onto your computer to get free online video content then we have only one word of advice:  don’t!

14.  Investment Advice   – If you have to pay for a newsletter or consultation, then we have only two words of advice:  please don’t!   Investing is a serious endeavor that should not be treated lightly or impulsively.

15.  Free Offers –  If you have to give any retailer your credit card number in order to qualify for a free offer, then the odds are that it isn’t going to be free.    In most cases, you can get the credit card company to reverse the inevitable unauthorized charge, but it won’t be easy.   You can pretty much be guaranteed a costly headache if they are selling porn, custom websites, trial software or newsletters.

16.  Advance Fees for a loan or credit card –  Talking about credit cards, if you receive an offer for a pre-approved loan or credit card that requires an upfront fee, this is an unsavory tip-off.   Most all legitimate banks only apply their annual fees to the card balance of the card and not at sign-up.

17.  Online Auctions –  Be very careful only to deal with well-regarded highly-rated services.  While killer deals are possible for savvy shoppers, they are the exception rather than the rule.

18.  Free Travel  –  It starts with an email offering some amazing deal to travel on a cruise or exotic destination.   Usually the transportation is free but the hotel prices are…..well, breathtaking.   There may be a timeshare pitch involved or the travel is nonrefundable (or non-existent).   Remember,  going on a vacation isn’t the equivalent of being taken for a ride.

19.  Spear Phishing –  Scammers will access your personal information by posing as a bank, a utility company, large retailer or some other company with which you are familiar.   They’ll lead you to a website that looks authentic, but is an elaborate fake and, once there, will fool you into giving credit card, password or personal account information.  Sometimes, they’ll trick you into downloading something onto your computer.   It rarely works out well for you.

20.  Dating/Marriage/Love –  There’s nothing wrong with looking for love, so long as you are looking in the right places.   There are many established dating/meeting online services, scammers are always trying to infiltrate established sites or creating their own dodgy ones.   There are a slew of dating scams — here’s a good list to review before you begin looking for love.

21.  Facebook Fraud –  Because of the size and scope of Facebook, more and more scammers are finding ways of tricking Facebook users into giving up personal information or their dollars.  Like buttons are increasingly be linked to malware or virus-laden sites, people will contact you after hacking into friends accounts and you will often get emails from people claiming to have found you on Facebook, hoping they’ll get you to give up your password to your Facebook account.  While Facebook has made efforts to counter these frauds, they are limited in what they have or can do.