'Trusting no one' can prevent internet fraud

By Lorne Fultonberg

March 6, 2013 Updated Mar 7, 2013 at 9:39 AM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Broome County Sheriff David Harder says that's the bottom line when you receive a suspicious offer via email.

Or better yet, investigate it yourself.

Internet scams topped Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's list of Top Consumer Frauds for the third year in a row. The reason, his office says, is because of today's increasing dependence on technology.

"People are getting more sophisticated," said Gary Thurber, Certified Credit Counselor at ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Binghamton. "More people are using more devices than in the past to take care of a lot of personal business -- laptop computers, iPhones, there's a lot more access to people reaching them."

An increased digital footprint makes more information more accessible. The increased prevalence of public WiFi networks means there are more ways and places for scammers to steal your information.

"The internet is very dangerous," Harder said. "It's very helpful, but it's very dangerous. And you've got to use extreme caution and verify things over and over again."

Internet scams work because they move quickly and spread easily, Thurber said. But taking a few minutes to slow down and check the source of the potential fraud can be invaluable.

"Ask questions before you send money and know who you're sending it to," Thurber said, "And make sure it's being sent in a secure way."

Simply checking the company's phone number and address can be a red flag; so can typing the company's name into Google. Chances are someone else has been scammed too.

The Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and the Sheriff's Department can also be good resources to consult.

The Attorney General's office recommends making sure you use a secure connection whenever you make a financial transaction online. Make sure the web address includes "HTTPS;" never give out your information to an unsolicited email; and check the email for misspellings or grammatical mistakes.

Harder keeps his rules simple: Make the transaction in person and be skeptical.

"If it's too good to be true, it's fraud," he said. "Go to the location, see the item, make sure it's what you want and then exchange the money. Don't send it over the Internet."

The Attorney General's office says it doesn't expect the internet fraud trend to decline anytime soon. The world is only becoming a more digital place and more often than not, the law tries to keep up with technology, not the other way around.