The U.S. President has declared October 2010 to be "National Cyber Security Awareness Month." While the term "cyber" may not be particularly clear to most people, what this really is about is How To Stay Safe Online; and not just in America. Staying safe online is crucial everywhere.
To celebrate, I thought I'd try and jam in as many little advise posts as possible between now and, well, when everyone knows how to stay safe online. Thus, without further ado:
Advise #1: No, you really haven't won the U.K. Lottery.
Nor have you won the Microsoft Lottery. Nor does anyone really want you to share the fortune their deceased husband/uncle/father/president/iguana left them. These are all scams. What they are trying to do is get you to pay them for the information that supposedly will reward you with untold riches.
These scams are sometimes known as "Nigerian Scams" because they many of them originate in Nigeria. More technically, they are known as "Advanced Fee Frauds". The objective is to get you to pay some amount now in return for riches later. Of course, there are no riches later. What there are are hordes of people in Internet Cafes all over the developing world, and probably Toronto and Iowa as well, who are making a living by fooling people into sending them advance fees in return for the winnning lottery ticket.
This may sound too elementary to many, but the truth is that these scams work! The hordes are out there because there are people who pay them enough to sustain the business model. Ask around and see how many of your parents, relatives, children, friends, neighbors, and fellow commuters on the bus realize that these are scams. I think you will be shocked to see how many do not realize that all these are fake. I certainly was shocked when I found out that one of my neighbors lost $5,000 to one of these scammers.
But, of course, none of us would ever get fooled by these scams. So, I have one favor to ask of you: please make sure that everyone you know won't get fooled. Let's put the scum behind the advanced fee fraud out of business once and for all. All it will take is for each of us to make sure that we don't let any of our acquaintances fall prey.