Shop online safely

I’ve heard of and personally encountered a number of e-commerce websites like the one described in this NYTimes article. The proprietor of promises the cheapest designer eyewear on the net, intentionally delivers something other than what customers order (a cheaper or counterfeit model, for example), and then stalls, threatens, cajoles, and harasses people who try to get their money back. He makes money when customers give up trying to get a refund, allowing him to pocket the difference in the amount he charged their credit cards and the value of the goods he shipped.

I believe that the majority of e-commerce websites deliver what they say they will, but you need to know how to avoid the few that won’t. Interestingly, the huckster who runs the site described in the NYTimes article provides the answer:

Selling on the Internet, Mr. Borker says, attracts a new horde of potential customers every day. For the most part, they don’t know anything about DecorMyEyes, and the ones who bother to research the company — well, he doesn’t want their money. If you’re the type of person who reads consumer reviews, Mr. Borker would rather you shop elsewhere.

Mr. Borker doesn’t want cautious, conscientious customers because those customers reduce his hourly wage. Why bother selling to these people when there are plenty of shoppers who will give up trying to get their money back without much fuss? That is why, amazingly, the owner of this scam website isn’t troubled by the bad publicity that makes it easy to protect yourself.

Before clicking “Buy”

Just as changing your password to something marginally more complex than the typical internet user’s password makes you an undesirable target, doing a bit of research on the net makes you vastly less likely to fall victim to an e-commerce scam.

When I say “a bit”, I really mean it. It takes two seconds to type “decormyeyes fraud” into Google’s search engine. Every search result I got when I did that clued me in to the fact that this website is bad news:

Google search for term: decormyeyes fraud

A Better Business Bureau search piles on the evidence:

Better Business Bureau page for decormyeyes

So that’s it. The next time you are thinking of buying from an online retailer, just do a quick Google search like “companyname fraud” or “companyname scam” and then check out the Better Business Bureau rating. Most people spend a good amount of time researching their internet purchases — allocating just a couple of seconds to protecting yourself from fraud should not be too much of a burden.

Can you spot a card skimmer?

I can’t. Not always, anyway. Take a look at all the clever ways scammers skim ATM cards and PINs.

If you’ve seen one of those semi-transluscent, green card slots with an image of a padlock on it, you know that banks are aware of the problem and are doing something to prevent it. Still, it seems like banks and other ATM owners could be doing more to let their customers know, at each ATM machine, how to avoid getting suckered by a skimmer. A picture of an unsullied model on the side of every ATM would be a big help. That way, you could compare the real-life model you’re looking at with the image, and hopefully you would notice any material discrepancies. I suppose evil-doers could simply replace the image with their own, but at least their jobs would be made more difficult for having to take that step. And it would provide ATM users with one more chance to notice a sloppy installation of an add-on to the machine.

Another option is a bit more high-tech, and would involve the ATM flashing a number on the screen that should match a number being displayed on the lip of the ATM card slot. This could be hacked, of course, but it would require gaining access to the ATM’s guts. Anything that increases the cost to would-be thieves in time and technical know-how is a good thing.

Anyhow, in the event that banks and other ATM owners do not put in a lot more effort than they currently do to stop this problem, what should you, the average ATM user, do?

Tips for avoiding ATM skimmers

I wish I could give some really solid advice here, but there are no foolproof methods. Here are the things I do to avoid card skimmers:

  1. Try to use ATMs inside banks, where it’s less likely that someone will install a skimming device.
  2. Quickly look at the parts of the ATM. If you see cheap looking components that seem like they could come off with a slight tug, beware.
  3. Cover the keypad with your non-typing hand as you punch in your PIN. Scammers need the information on the magnetic strip of your card and your password to gain access to your bank account. If you deprive them of your password, they’ve only got half of the information they need. Watch out for fake keypads placed over the real keypad, though, since this can allow scammers to get your password no matter how well you cover up when you key it in.

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