You were not the millionth visitor to the site. There is no Nigerian prince with millions of dollars just out of reach. You have not been selected for a free Apple iPod. And there is no such thing as a free lunch... especially on the Internet.
The reason advertisements like these exist is that people want something from you. Some want to try and get you to sign up for a paid service. Some only want contact and personal information for advertising purposes.
Other, more malicious users, want to access and drain your bank accounts. It can be a little frightening, but this sort of thing reasonably easy to avoid if you know what to look for.
The most important thing to remember is that if something on the Internet sounds too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. I’ve said it already, but it merits repeating: On the Internet, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If someone is trying to give you something valuable for free, keep in mind that there is a good chance that there will be conditions attached to whatever they are trying to “give” away.
I don’t mean to say that if it is free, it is probably malicious.
Several things, including the Internet browser I use, my e-mail service, and even the document editor being used to type this article were all completely free. Amateur authors regularly release audio and sometimes even written versions of their books online, completely free. Some of the most popular games and software are, at the moment, completely free. There are an endless amount of wonderfully creative people on the Internet who and give away what they do for free.
A good rule of thumb is that if they are giving away something physical for free, there’s a very good chance that they are trying to scam you in some way, or at the very least they want your contact information. Here’s an example: about half a year ago there was a popular scam running on various social networking sites. In the scam, the poster would talk about how his company had several extra pieces of some random electronic (call it a laptop) that the company didn’t need. Then, he said that he’d be willing to give it to anyone who asked for one, free, no strings attached. He just needs some personal information (name, address, e-mail), and for you to pass the message along to your friends.
It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone who tried to get something free from this sort of trick got nothing more than spam e-mails for their trouble This sort of scam is called “phishing.” It works very simply, the scammer just asks you for your personal information.
The idea of someone trying to scam you by just asking for your information in an e-mail may seem silly, but it can be a very effective strategy. Obviously, you wouldn’t give a complete stranger that sort of information. But what if your bank sent you an e-mail asking for that same information because of “account issues?” It is very important to remember that no official organization, whether it be your bank or something as unimportant as an online game, will ever ask you to send account information (especially your password) through an e-mail. They will flat out not do this. If you get an e-mail from something like a bank that requests your online banking password, PIN, or anything at all similar to that, it is almost certainly a scam. The reason phishing is a viable means of getting information from Internet users is that it is very easy to send the same scam message to multiple people. If the message only works one out of every thousand times, that obviously isn’t very many... unless it is sent to ten thousand people. That’s ten people scammed... well worth it, especially if they have been scammed out of online banking information.
There’s no need to become too paranoid about any e-mail you might recieve. Don’t beware of everything you see on the Internet, be aware that you can’t accept that something is trustworthy just because they say they are. Don’t give out your information unless you are completely confident in whom you are giving it to.
This article is the second in a series devoted to Internet security, and leaning how to keep you and your information safe. Any questions, requests for clarifications, or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Bailey is a Computer Science major at UCR Bourns College of Engineering
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