Internet Fraud Lurks in Your Inbox

Posted on May 29, 2002

Danger is lurking in your email, warns the National Consumers League (NCL), a nonprofit consumer organization based in Washington, DC. Based on consumers' reports to NCL's Internet Fraud Watch (IFW) program last year, many dubious offers, including those made for the fastest growing Internet fraud, Nigerian money offers, come by email.

Additionally, almost 27,000 of the 28,655 respondents to an April 25 "Daily Poll" on AT&T Worldnet Service's website, said they've received unsolicited email offers for what IFW warns could be scams. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they have received credit card offers in their email boxes; 30 percent received loan offers; 30 percent received offers to make money working at home; 27 percent received invitations to visit X-rated sites; and 12 percent received Nigerian money offers. Only 6 percent of respondents said they had never received any of these emails.

"While not all unsolicited email messages are fraudulent, consumers should be very suspicious of anyone who promises them easy money, incredibly cheap prices, or 'free' services that may have hidden costs," cautions Susan Grant, director of NCL's IFW. "Many of the top ten Internet frauds are lurking in your inbox. The key is to recognize and report them."

Nigerian money offers are the fastest growing Internet fraud reported to the IFW, increasing 900 percent from 2000 to 2001. Typically, the message comes from someone in an African country who claims to have amassed a fortune and wants to transfer it to your bank account for safekeeping.

"The person offers you millions to hold the money in your bank account temporarily, but it's a pack of lies," says Grant. "There is no fortune, and the purpose of the scam is to take money out of your account, not put money into it."

In some of the most frequently reported Internet frauds, many of the offers came by email: 97 percent of Nigerian money offers; 24 percent of work- at-home schemes; 28 percent of bogus credit card offers; and 36 percent of fraudulent business opportunities and franchises.

To alert consumers about this and other online scams, NCL has launched an educational campaign with support from AT&T. Trend data and fact sheets about Internet fraud as well as new tips about avoiding cons and advice about the most common scams are available at http://www.fraud.org/internet/inttip/inttip.htm.

The Top 10 Internet Frauds Reported to the IFW in 2001

1. Online Auctions -- items that were misrepresented or never received after being sold to the highest bidder in a virtual auction

2. General Merchandise -- anything sold on a website (not an auction, and not computer software or hardware) that was misrepresented or never received

3. Nigerian Money Offers -- "aid" requests from someone claiming to need help to transfer a fortune from Africa

4. Computer Equipment/Software -- equipment (not sold on an auction) that was either never received or misrepresented

5. Internet Access Services -- charges from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that were never ordered and/or received

6. Information/Adult Services -- charges to credit cards or phone bills for services never provided or misrepresented as free

7. Work at Home Schemes -- kits sold with false promises of profits

8. Advance Fee Loans -- empty promises of loans requiring payment of application and other fees in advance

9. Credit Card Offers -- phony promises of credit cards requiring upfront payment of application and other fees

10. Business Opportunities/Franchises -- exaggerated claims of potential profits through investments in prepackaged businesses or franchises

The mission of the National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is to identify, protect, represent, and advance the economic and social interests of consumers and workers. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. NCL runs the National Fraud Information Center, which was created in 1992, and the Internet Fraud Watch, which was created in 1996, operating in tandem with the NFIC. Consumers from across the United States and Canada can call 800-876-7060 fill out the online form to file a complaint. Fraud reports from consumers are sent within minutes to over 200 appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.