Scams and shenanigans

Ever have one of those days where you do a really stupid thing?

Say you are travelling around Italy and you are tired, exhausted and famished. All you want to do is drop your pack, pig out on some pasta, and put your feet up. So you think - hey, I will. Then, you return to your car revived, only to discover the contents, including travellers' cheques and passports, have been stolen. I know it sounds exactly like the American Express advertisement from the 1980s - but a friend e-mailed me this tale of woe yesterday.

Or perhaps you are doing a bit of shopping, and as you enter the store the staff request that you leave your bag at the entrance, for security purposes, to alleviate shoplifting. Next, you turn around and the bag and its contents are gone. When you get a call from your office to say the bag has been handed in, your spirits soar. But when you open the bag, your wallet, mobile, and other electronic essentials are nowhere to be seen. This time a PC World reader dropped me a line to let me know his frustration.

If you have ever been stolen from - and most of us have at one point or another - these are scenarios you can relate to. Basically, you could kick yourself for dropping your guard and being so trusting. Plus, most of us know better, and often have only ourselves to blame. But it can happen to anyone, and it commonly does, out on the street, in our homes - or online.

In the past few weeks, while we have been compiling our Clicking with Caution special, which this month focuses on dot cons or Web scams, we have come across a wealth of ways that fraudulent operators and shysters are using the New Economy to continue conning us online. Every month we receive numerous letters from readers requesting assistance with vendors or advice how to resolve issues they may have with technology companies - often the ones we all know - and PC World is always happy to assist where possible. The recent request on the PC World Web site for readers to share their scams with us, to form the basis of our report, brought a lot of stories to light, although thankfully most our readers are savvy Net users - and don't get done online. But that doesn't mean it won't happen to you!

Another reader was concerned about an e-mail recently circulating which claimed that Australia Post was planning a 5cent fee for every undelivered e-mail. The hoax, which originated in the US and Canada two years ago, began circulating locally a few months back. Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, was quick to issue a press release debunking this myth (see www.dca.gov.au/mediarel.html for further details), yet the issue persisted; the e-mail hoax even came to the attention of mainstream media outlets. See how far a scam can spread? This reader was smart enough to question the hoax, and ask somebody they thought would have an answer. Before they fell for it!

The truth is that most of us are careful enough to ask the right questions, and know that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. But on the Net, scams are proliferating mainly because it's so easy to reach millions of consumers. The theory is scammers are bound to snare a small percentage of consumers from this group and, voil…, you can make some quick cash. And there are always new ways to catch people out online.

This month we start our report on beating tech swindlers by uncovering common, and not so common, dot cons - everything from online auctions and e-commerce rip-offs to financial swindles and technology attacks, plus more. Next month we move offline, and tell you how to avoid rip-offs when buying a PC. I can't guarantee you won't get scammed again but, armed with this information, at least there is a good chance you won't get bitten!

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Amanda Conroy

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