Ellen Roseman: Beware of internet scams

Someone throws out bait with the hopes that while most people will ignore it, a few will be tempted into biting.

Phony bank emails are old news. But there are many other fraudulent ways to part you from your money.

You get an email, or more likely a call, from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. Your system is about to crash, you're told, because of a virus or malicious software.

So, you give this person your passwords to get remote access to your computer and fix the software. You also pay for the work with a credit card number.

Who falls for this scam? I was surprised to hear from a few victims after I did a column in the Toronto Star. Many were older people, who felt uneasy about computer security. They wanted reassurance from a trusted source.

I also wrote about the so-called emergency scam. You get an email from a friend or relative who's in trouble in a foreign country and needs you to send money by wire immediately to get home again.

The person I interviewed had 2,000 contacts in her Yahoo account. She found, to her shock, that two friends had wired money to her in Valencia, Spain, where she was supposedly trapped. The crime paid off for the impersonators.

Big email providers, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, are backing a new effort to reduce phishing emails by using the equivalent of digital signatures to help identify a message's sender.

Until that happens, you can minimize phishing incidents by being more suspicious. Always try to verify someone's identity before clicking a link or sending money.

Call the company or the person who supposedly sent you an email. Criminals haven't figured out a way of spoofing a phone number, at least not yet, says Christopher Elliott, author of Scammed.

Finally, never wire money to a stranger by Western Union or MoneyGram, since there's no way to get it back once it's gone. Use a credit card instead, since you're protected from fraud and you can file a dispute about a bogus charge.