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Wednesday, April 7, 1999 Published at 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK

Business: Your Money

Internet scam file

Know who you are dealing with on the Net

Like never before, the Internet revolution has underlined the importance of the old adage, 'let the buyer beware'.

Following BBC News Online's report Fighting Internet fraud, here is a list of the major scams doing the rounds currently:

Consumer cons

Bogus free call numbers
Becoming widespread in the US and one of the fastest growing scams authorities say. E-mail messages with a subject line purport to alert the recipient to an unpaid account, impending legal action, winning a prize. or important information about a family member. They then ask that a freephone access number be called for more details. However, the 'free' number is an overseas or pay-per-call number with high charges. US consumers have been charged more than $100 within minutes. No reports of UK-based examples of this scam yet.

Millennium bug
There are a host of offers of software to ensure your computer is safe from the Year 2000 bug. Disks are sold for around $25 to test for the problem while solutions to fix it can cost up to $200 - but most personal computers bought in the past few years are already safe from the bug and most PC manufacturers offer the test and the fix for free.

Auction sites
Many online auction sites do legitimate business and try to ensure that the people putting items up for auction don't con the buyers. Nonetheless, some sites and some sellers are nothing but a variation of the basic net selling scams, tempting online shoppers to submit a bid for high-cost software, such as Microsoft Office, being sold off cheaply. Bidders are then told they have won and are legally obliged to pay up within 24 hours. The goods may never appear.

Phony prize awards often come by e-mail, claiming the recipient has been especially chosen and require payment of an upfront fee before prizes can be awarded. Ignore them.

Investors beware

Pyramid schemes
As old as the pyramids themselves, these schemes have proliferated on the Internet. They offer windfall earnings in return for an upfront fee but often turn out to be little more than the chance to earn money by recruiting more members in the same way. The US Federal Trade Commission launched action against 67 alleged pyramid operators last month - they are not going away which means people are still being hooked all round the world.

Buying shares I
The practice of selling shares in non-existent companies via bogus prospectuses or promotional offers. The success of technology companies which have seen phenomenal share price growth recently has spurred a rise of false offers in this area.

Buying shares II
There are many websites and news groups offering 'buy' recommendations on shares. While claiming to be independent, many turn out to be con artists luring investors to put money into their own companies, which may not even exist.

Advance-fee loans
Offers abound for personal or business loans from operators requiring little in the way of security or credit checks. But they do seek payment of fees in advance and the loan offers usually turn out to be empty promises.

Foreign exchange
Schemes offering dealing or advice in Forex transactions and maybe the chance of large speculative gains in return for an upfront fee have been around for sometime.

Bad for business

Card fraud
Card fraud also hurts businesses, which have less protection than consumers. Customers using stolen cards or bogus names and addresses and anonymous e-mail accounts often sees the seller out of pocket when it is all sorted out. The advice is do not accept orders unless complete information is provided including full address and phone number.

Promote your business
Some con men offer to promote your business across the Net, with site or directory registrations, again for a fee in advance. Check the company behind the service, ask for independent evidence of results, such as customer testimonies.

Shopping malls
Having a 'virtual' shop in an online shopping mall can be a good way to generate sales. But identifying prime real estate on the web is a lot harder than in a physical setting. Seek independent verification of claims of Internet traffic to the mall and ask to speak to other mall tenants.

Work at home schemes
These 'business opportunities' demand upfront payment for kits to start a business packing envelopes, making jewellery, or performing other work-at-home jobs, often with false promises of huge profits.

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