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FBI agent: How to protect yourself against Internet fraud

Internet scams

Internet scams can sometimes be hard to spot, but experts have some tell-tale signs that should be red flags. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 31, 2011)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011

THOMPSON, Ga. -- The recession hit Washington, Ga., resident Heather Mullinax just like it did a lot of people.

"That's the only thing that was going through my head was money to pay bills, and that's what I need," the 20-year-old said.

She logged onto Craigslist and took a job from a woman. The job sounded easy enough: posting ads to the site.

"Three or four days after this, she wanted me to do some payroll for her company," Mullinax said.

That's when she says things got fishy. A person by the name of "Kathleen Gleason" instructed Mullinax to print monetary amounts, names and routing numbers on blank checks.

"I had printed out the check, and I had asked them, 'Well, who's supposed to sign this check?' She was like, 'Well, give me a second, and I'll send you the signature.' Well, they sent me the signature, and the signature was [of] Mathew Bills, and it does not even look like a signature," Mullinax said.

She says she was being used and denounced the "job" as a scam.

News 12 showed the instant message conversations and checks to the FBI in Columbia. Special Agent Drew Grafton pointed out numerous red flags that indicate a scam. Money was being deposited in Western Union, the employer, Kathleen Gleason, used a Gmail account as opposed to a business email address, and he questioned why a reputable company would rely on a 20-year-old to handle its payroll.

Overall, it didn't surprise the special agent on the FBI Columbia Division's Cyber Squad.

"Cyber crime/Internet fraud is not just something that happens in the New Yorks and the Los Angeleses," he told News 12.

He says his case load is overwhelming in South Carolina a lot of times, too.

"It's the same old type of bank fraud or crime that occurs, it's just using a new tool," he said.

He said it's also a new tool to steal identities. Malicious Software, or Malware, can be attached to emails and used to steal your information without you knowing.

In Mullinax's case, she offered up personal information before she knew she was in a sticky situation.

"That is kind of a little scary, because they can do anything with that," she said.

Whatever the case, she now goes by an old adage that Grafton preaches.

"If something is too good to be true, then it probably is," he said.

Grafton says when you're taking an online job like Mullinax did, there are some red flags that indicate you're at risk of being scammed.

He says your "employer" should have a company email, not a Yahoo! or Gmail account.

He also said any monetary transactions through Western Union or similar companies could also mean you're being scammed.

See below for additional details:

FBI: Internet Fraud -- Common Fraud Schemes

FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center

Internet Crime Prevention Tips -- FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center

Types of Fraud on Looks Too Good To be True Website

Are You at Risk? Take the tests on Looks Too Good To be True Website

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