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Don't suspend common sense when it comes to Internet scams


If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Most people find this adage just another bit of common sense. They use it in their everyday life -- commerce, trade, business, etc.

But all too often people drop their guard when it comes to doing business on the Internet; sometimes even the improbable seems like a sure bet.

The Federal Trade Commission last week announced it was taking action against a bevy of shady business ventures and con artists.

Most of the scams that were uncovered were illegal multilevel marketing plans, also known as pyramid schemes.

The newness of the Web has convinced some people into suspending common sense and taking part in a deal that typical loses money.

If you've been online for long, you've probably received a "get-rich-quick" type of e-mail, asking you to invest in some program or plan now with the promise of incredible earnings later.

The "plan" involves getting other people to "invest" under you; often you may wind up sending a flurry of e-mail messages in hopes of attracting more investors. The difference between legitimate multilevel marketing and pyramid schemes is that the legitimate plans focus on selling products; the pyramid schemes focus on recruiting additional investors more than selling any product.

For more information about online scams, visit the FTC's Web site at www.ftc.gov.

Y2K SCAMS. ZDNet's Y2K reporter Mitch Ratcliffe reported recently in his column that scam artists are finding new ways of committing fraud -- with Y2K-related scams.

A fellow employee received a call from a man claiming to be working on Y2K compliance with his bank.

His work was going to require transferring of the depositors funds into specially designed and protected accounts while the last steps were completed to make the bank totally ready for the Year 2000.

To verify that the caller was talking to the correct person connected with his accounts, the caller needed to confirm information about the depositor, his account numbers, and give verbal authorization to transfer the funds.

The man who received the call asked the caller to identify which account at which bank he was referring to, and the caller immediately hung up.

If the man had given the caller the information -- which would've included his mother's maiden name, social security number and other data -- it would have possible for the scammer to transfer funds from his accounts, or present a counterfeited check on the account.

It's a case of Y2K fears being used to tempt folks to set aside common sense.

If you receive a call related to your bank's efforts to eliminate their Year 2000 problems, handle the call with care.

Don't inadvertently reveal any personal information about you or where you bank, and insist on taking the caller's name, company name, phone number and supervisor's name and phone number.

Before you approve anything or confirm your information, check out the caller thoroughly with his company and your bank.

SCAMBUSTERS. An additional place you might visit on the Web for consumer anti-fraud information is the Internet Scambusters electronic magazine.

You'll find information about current myths and urban legends making the rounds via e-mail, as well as monthly tips on how to spot and avoid being ripped off while using the Internet.

Internet Scambusters offers a free e-mail dispatch, as well as an interesting list of The Top Five Scams of 1998, which included cramming (billing for services never delivered); slamming (changing long distance carriers without permission); advance loan fees; phony sweepstakes; and work-at-home scams.

Visit Internet Scambusters on the Web at www.scambusters.org.

GM ONLINE. General Motors joined Ford, BMW, Nissan and other dealers this week by unveiling the automaker's new online auto shopping Web site. Using the motto "The Future of Online Auto Buying," the site is quite a looker.

The site has an easy-to-use interface, with links to get you started for your online shopping trip. There are areas for shopping for financing options, and a dealer locator page. You can e-mail your nearest dealer, determine what vehicles are in stock, and check pricing and options.

As a rule, I've found that most automaker Web sites are first class and informative; GM's entry with GM BuyPower is no exception.

Visit the site on the Web at www.gmbuypower.com.

AUTO.COM. If it's industry news you're looking for -- news beyond the simple sale and promotion of new cars -- you'll hit paydirt if you visit www.auto.com, a service of the Detroit Free Press.

The site offers reviews of current models that are on sale, as well as archives from previous test drives. You can even check the pricing of new and used cars with a link to the Kelley Blue Book Web site.

If it's automotive, it's here, from NASCAR racing to specifications for new models.

Visit them on the Web at www.auto.com.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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