Mid-South News
1:15 am
Wed April 15, 2009

Buyer Beware On the Internet

Memphis, TN – In a weak economy people are desperate to save a dollar. With marketing and sales increasing on the Internet more individuals are finding themselves victim to this it's too good to be true facade. Nicole Erwin reports.

Consumers are signing up for things willingly but not necessarily consciously. A website known as Restaurant.com. offers coupons to popular eateries all over the U.S. If you type in 38104 a zip code for Memphis, offers for more than 77 different locations pop up on the screen. Kelly Kraisinger visited the website, purchased a couple coupons and later found a mysterious charge on her credit card.

"I noticed there was a random charge, it was Shopping Essentials, and it gave a 1-888 number, and I thought that's really weird, but then I just didn't think anything of it and that I must have spent money somewhere and it was just coded for that," Kelly said.

Kelly noticed the charge again the next month. So she did what any inquisitive person would, she Googled it.

"It came up, fraud. These people run a scam, they ripped me off. So then I decided, oh my God, I have been ripped off. You always hear people talk about they have been ripped off from different sites and don't give your information, but you don't really think it is going to happen to you, and you think I don't give my information to random sites and stuff like that."

Kelly called Shopping-essentials and asked for them to remove her from their subscription, they did so without hassle and said without question that they received her information from Restaurant.com. Initially, Kelly thought her information was stolen, she didn't remember signing up for anything other than her coupons. You see, before Kelly or anyone else could purchase their Restaurant.com coupons, a page would pop up offering an additional $10 off their purchase. In big letters it says save ten dollars and in tiny letters at the bottom the consumer could find the fine details: by clicking yes to the offer you receive one month free subscription to ShoppingEssentials, after the trial period a monthly payment of 14.95 will be charged.

Shopping Essentials spokesperson George Thomas says each customer is sent two emails confirming their subscription before charged. Kelly says she does not recall receiving any emails but doesn't deny the possibility it could have gotten deleted with the spam.

This too good to be true theme is what helps scam artists in there real time abilities. Christopher Garrett is the Communications Director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, he says the number one fraudulent activity in Tennessee is identity theft, mostly conducted on-line and the new hook for consumers is a disguised government benefits packages.

"Here you have scam artists who have latched on a very real thing but are promising something that is false, in exchange for personal information. Basically, scam artists have been saying through emails, Internet and on-line that they can help direct stimulus funds to those users," Garrett said.

Garrett says the best way to protect yourself is talk about what you have read. Search the information on news networks and on-line to see whether or not the information is legit. If you realize it is in fact a scam, report it to your state division of consumer affairs. Then it's over-- right. Wrong. Michael Kaiser, executive director of National Security Alliance, says fighting cyber-crime needs some work. Websites that are reported within the U.S. that get shut down, have been seen back up and running only months later.

"Cyber-crime is not only hosted in the United States. So it is very difficult, you know if you were to call your local police and say this is happening and the criminals are actually on the other side of the ocean, its really not within their jurisdiction, and there are a lot of jurisdiction issues there. What we hope to see going forward is increasing collaboration, industry, other aspects of government, maybe even consumer groups to help address some of these issues," Kaiser said.

Kaiser says efforts have already shown prosperous in phishing sites that promote child pornography. As for now the best way for consumers to protect themselves from scammers bait is to really investigate their lure.