The Internet continues to be the hottest medium for almost every scam. It provides opportunities for legitimate businesses and consumers, but it also hosts fraud artists running investment scams, fake business opportunities and fraudulent auctions, among others. The Internet has spawned online scams and jargon to describe them as well: “phishing” and “spoofing” for example. “Phishing” is a term coined by computer hackers, who use email to fish the Internet hoping to hook you into giving them your logins, passwords and/or credit card information. The phisher sends an email impersonating a legitimate company (called “spoofing”) such as your own Internet service provider or financial institution. The email then directs you to a bogus site to update your account information.
Spyware is another Internet threat: software that covertly gathers user information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge. Check out web businesses just as carefully as you would any other business. Always check out the security and privacy policies of websites and above all, treat all unsolicited email as bogus and delete it. Increasingly, companies are using third party security “seals” such as the BBBOnLine Reliability Seal to reassure consumers of their online security. Be sure to click on the seal to confirm that it is valid and that the company is officially subscribed rather than having just cut and pasted an unauthorized logo onto their website.
The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority administers consumer protection legislation that protects consumers making online purchases and sets parameters for distance sales contracts. Contact the BPCPA at www.bpcpa.ca or toll-free 1-888-564-9963.