I have a computer virus or something that has frozen my computer, but I can solve my problem by calling the phone number on the screen and paying a small fee to correct it.

The IRS sent me an email warning me about attempts to access my account, and it includes a form I can use to give them the correct information.

An official from the Turks and Caicos wants me to help him process a check and will pay me $20,000 to do it.

Wow, I can get a FREE $100 Gift card to use at Walmart!

These "opportunities" may sound quite different, but they have one common thread: They are all attempts to commit cyber fraud. Let's look at the why, the how, and the clues to cyber or computer scams.

Computer fraud is the fastest growing area of fraud today for many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that computers are consumer commodities, no different than a television set or even a food processor.

The price of computers can range as low as $100 on the second-hand market. Computer fraud is also relatively inexpensive for the con-artist to commit. All the tools necessary to commit cyber fraud are available for less than $1,000, including equipment, sophisticated software, and Internet services. In addition, access to thousands of individual email addresses is readily available. All that's necessary is the skill in writing and designing the fraud campaign.


Computer fraud continues to thrive because a large number of computer users of all ages are naïve to the dangers and security issues related to computer use. Coupled with the wide-ranging free personal information accessible on the Internet, victimization becomes a reality.

The potential for becoming a computer fraud target is high. Fraudsters use email messages, bogus websites, and popup windows to deliver their messages. They count on their targets to be motivated by greed in the opportunity to make a large sum of money with little effort. They often project a false image of authority impersonating corporate executives or government officials or they will resort to threats and intimidation.

Here are three indicators that an email you receive may be a scam:

The first consists of offers that are "too good to be true" and happen when a complete stranger offers you a large sum of money in return for a relatively small sum. A variation of the scam is the offer of a product or travel opportunity that has a significant value at a very small cost, often $100 to $300.

A second tip-off may be in the wording of the email or attachment. Poor spelling and grammar are not found in communications from major corporations or the government, but often appear in scam attempts developed in non-English speaking countries.

The third cause for concern can be the email address or URL provided in the scam attempt. (URL stands for Uniform Record Locator and is the information in the search line of a Web browser.) The sender's email address should demonstrate a direct relation to the source of the message. For example, an email from American Express should have a return or originating address including the name of the company; an email from a government agency should indicate the name of the agency followed by the letters GOV (for example, IRS.GOV).

This situation is true for a web page URL. Legitimate web pages display the name of the company in the URL and the URL of any page requiring you to enter information should display the letters HTTPS.

Be particularly aware of email offers that promise gift cards at major stores or online businesses. These often are attempts to capture personal information of sell merchandise. It is important to keep in mind that every action you take and every word you type or say on line is being watched and recorded by somebody!

Next time, we will take a close look at the "do's and don'ts" of computer use.

If you suspect that you may be a victim of a computer-based scam, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline at 877-908-3360 or the Vermont Attorney General's Consumer Action Program at (800) 649-2424.

Elliott Greenblott is the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. The AARP is seeking fraud fighters. Join the AARP Fraud Watch Network and receive watchdog alerts and tips. It's free. Go to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or volunteer by emailing vt@aarp.org, calling 877-434-7598, or by emailing Greenblott at egreenblott@aarp.org.