Protecting yourself

Were you scammed in 2011?

Connie Prater

“How could I have been so stupid? I should have known better.”

That was the lament of a friend who was snookered by a “romantic” conman online in 2011.

She and many others: Dating and social media scams made the list of the Better Business Bureau’s top scams of 2011.

There seems to be no shortage of scammers out there thinking up ways to help us part with our money. The BBB identified nine categories of scams that made the rounds in 2011. Among them: job scams that conned unemployed workers out of their personal information and bad check scams that used Craigslist ads to find sellers of merchandise. And if you get an email from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg inviting you to claim your $1 million prize, don’t take the bait. It’s not really Zuckerberg.

The BBB warns about putting too much personal information on social media websites. My friend met someone on an Internet dating site, befriended him and talked daily on the phone for several weeks. She was lonely, going through a divorce and vulnerable. He said all the right things to make her feel that he was sincere and cared for her.

They arranged to meet in person (he said he lived in Seattle and the United Kingdom; she lived in Texas). He claimed to have booked and flight and the date was set for his trip. But the day before his scheduled arrival, he called in a panic and in tears. He had been kidnapped and was being held by people who wanted money for his release. It seemed genuine and my kindhearted friend wired $4,000 to an offshore account. She never saw that money or heard from her friend again.

The BBB was itself the victim of a scam in 2011. In fact, the agency named it the “scam of the year.” Someone sent millions of e-mails that looked like official BBB correspondence. The subject line read: “Complaint against your business.” Merchants who opened the e-mail and clicked on an attachment launched a virus that infiltrated their computers and stole banking information, passwords and other important data.

According to the agency: “BBB is working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of these emails, and has already shut down dozens of hijacked websites. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If your computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned, as well.”

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