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With the advent of services like PayPal, eBay, and Craigslist, it's easier than ever to get scammed online. While some gimmicks are quite harmless, others can cost you upwards of thousands of dollars. Some people scam users for a laugh; usually, these are the more harmless types of frauds. But others can hack into your accounts, give your computer viruses, steal your identity, and generally wreak havoc on your life. They can usually be spotted quite easily, provided you know what you're looking at. Scams can show up on websites, through emails, chat forums, and just about anyplace that's "clickable" on the Internet. Therefore, it's really important to arm yourself with a few tips on how to spot, avoid, and even report scams and keep yourself safe on the web.
1. Craigslist - Craigslist is pretty much a mess begging to happen. While it has about seventy thousand great uses, more than a few of those uses include taking advantage of suckers. Not to say that you're a sucker, of course! But you can be, so be careful when you're posting and replying to posts. As soon as you start posting ads on Craigslist, you're going to get a truckload of related (or not) junk mail. It’s mostly harmless people sending chain mail about "better places" for you to post your ads, subscription ad services, etc, and you should probably ignore these, as they come from "robots" or email-creation programs, and not from real people. Because of that, the likelihood of their being anything beneficial to you is slim to none. While it's also an obvious choice to remain safe about meeting sellers/venders in public, sometimes people forget about that. Try to meet the person in a public area, during the day, and preferably with a friend. Also, don't just go giving out your phone number and address on Craigslist! This can result in your account being deactivated, and invites people to cut your skin off and wear it to their mother's birthday party. And of course, be sure to read the site's guidelines and rules on staying safe and avoiding scams.
2. Email - In theory, email is a wonderful tool. In practice, it can result in your computer getting more viruses than a third world hospital. One of the most popular ways to pick up a virus or worm is through false Craigslist/PayPal/eBay account mails. You'll see subject lines like, "Your account needs to be re-verified [Scanned]." Now, any email that says it's "Scanned" is probably not a good idea to open, but if you'll notice, these kids of spam can be really tricky. They do look just like the real site's mail format, but look at the email address it's sent from. It'll be some random one full of letters and number that, clearly, is not PayPal. Always check the sender's address, and never open files or follow links unless you're one hundred percent sure they're safe. Just opening an attachment or clicking on a bad link (whether you download anything or not) can result in hundreds of dollars in laptop repair.
3. Music - The classic example here is Limewire, which is now shut down for obvious reasons. It was the biggest illegal music-downloading program out there, and in its time, more than one innocent person lost their beloved iPod or laptop to its charms. Downloading free music is generally not a good idea, not only because it's illegal, but also because it's really sketchy. Some files can contain advertisements instead of the real song, along with viruses galore. These can attach to your computer or your music player: any iPod, phone, etc. So I know it's irritating, but go the extra mile and get your music from iTunes, or use Pandora, Spotify, or Grooveshark.
Always check the URL of a site before you enter any account information. It should be the correct URL, and should have "https" in front of it if it's safe. Never fall for the "I'll send you a check and you cash it and send me money back first" trick. Scammers will ask you to grab their check out of the mail, which will be made out for five thousand dollars too much, and for you to send the balance back to them. It's obvious what they're doing, right?
These are just a few tips on keeping yourself safe on the Internet. I hope they help keep you from falling victim to the malicious people that lurk out there, just waiting to steal from you. And if you want still more tips, check out Fight Identity Theft, which has loads of way to protect your identity. Just be smart and keep a watchful eye out, and you'll keep yourself safe and sound!