Scams abound everywhere — on email, on the other end of your telephone, in your mailbox, and even between friends. Believe it or not, there are seasonal swindles: In the summer you get the home improvement cons (where people driving by pretend to notice damage on your roof and offer to ‘fix’ it). Around tax time, you’ll receive emails telling you that your refund is waiting — if you just click through to a website and ‘confirm’ your personal information.

There are even holiday swindles. Take a gander at these 12 popular winter holiday swindles (one for each day of Christmas?) from Silver Lake Publishing’s SCAMS & SWINDLES: How to Recognize and Avoid Internet Era Rip-offs:

1) Auction fraud/nondelivery. The simplest form of online auction fraud, this can happen even on reputable sites. A crooked seller either develops or hijacks a well-rated identity and starts taking payments for high-ticket items (electronics and cameras are two favorites) he doesn’t actually own and doesn’t ever deliver.

2) Auction fraud/payment scams. A crooked buyer overpays for an item with a stolen credit card or fake cashier’s check and asks the seller to send the change with the item. If the crook’s timing works, the seller is out the item and some money before the scam comes to light.

3) E-mail spoofing. Sometimes called phishing. A crook sends a consumer an e-mail that looks like it comes from the consumer’s bank or brokerage, asking for confirmation of personal and account information. (In one common variation, the crook pretends to be from the IRS or Social Security Administration.) If the victim hands over the information, the crook raids his or her accounts.

4) Web site spoofing. Sometimes called pharming, this is a more elaborate version of phishing. The crook sets up a fake Web site that copies significant parts of a real financial institution’s site. By manipulating the site’s universal record locator (URL), the crook attracts people who think they’re at the real site. The crook copies the account and personal data people enter, and uses it raid their accounts.

5) Fake pharmaceuticals through Internet outlets. Ads selling Viagra and Cialis (and their ‘herbal’ versions) make up a growing portion of the Internet spam. In many cases, these cut-rate drugs are fake or illegally imported from other countries; the victim may believe the drugs are approved for sale in the U.S., but they’re not. In some cases, these fake drugs can be life-threatening.

6) Identity theft/credit card processors. The hottest hunting ground for stolen identities right now? The various ‘third-party processors’ that make up a larger part of the credit card economy than most people realize. These corporate middlemen move electronic money between consumers’ credit cards and merchant’s bank accounts. They aren’t supposed to keep credit card information, but some do.

7) Identity theft/institutional databases. Despite the publicity that ID theft has gotten, many big institutions remain sloppy about protecting people’s personal information. Government agencies, colleges and universities and even some retail companies sit on huge amounts of personal data. Crooks look for simple ways to access these databases and steal as much personal information as they can.

8) Malicious spyware. Programs that attach themselves to your computer when you open certain e-mails or visit certain Web sites started out as an annoying advertising trick. Now, crooks use them as tools for copying the keystrokes that people make to do online transactions. And spyware attaches from the least expected places: Kids’ cartoon Web sites are notoriously infected.

9) ‘Nigerian’ advance-fee swindles. A victim is offered the chance to make a lot of money by playing a small role in a shady business deal originating from a foreign country. If the victim agrees to move millions of dollars through his account, he can keep a six-figure ‘fee.’ The crooks supply official-looking documents; then, the victim has to contribute fees or money to make the deal happen. It never does.

10) Online job offers. Crooks pretend to be Internet-based marketing companies hiring people to test stores or services as ‘secret shoppers’ during the holiday rush. The crooks send each ‘new hire’ a fake cashier’s check to open a local office; soon, the victim is instructed to wire or send some money back to the home office. When the original check turns out to be bogus, the new hire is out the money he sent ‘back.’

11) Sweetheart scams. Match-making Web sites are full of crooks (usually men) looking for lonely victims (usually women). The crooks write in florid tones about ‘finding a soul-mate’ and not letting ‘past hurts close their hearts.’ Lonely and gullible women fall for this. Then, the ‘boyfriend’ needs some help cashing a check for holiday travel or shopping. The romance continues until the checks turn out to be fake.

12) Bogus charities. Especially around the holidays, scammers set up fake charities that make impassioned, emotional appeals for financial support. Fake aid to Hurricane Katrina victims remains a favorite premise. In many cases, these crooks will align themselves with religious or social organizations seeming to be affiliated when they actually aren’t.

For more information or to order the book, log onto Silverlake Publishing’s website,

Published: Nov 27, 2006