January 5, 2005, 12:00 AM

Old scams get new twists on the Internet

Most online scams have roots in schemes that predate the Internet, but that doesn’t stop web criminals from continuing to think up new twists for their web crimes, according to Lance Koonce, a lawyer experienced in web cases.


Most online scams have roots in confidence schemes that date back to well before the Internet era, but that doesn’t stop web criminals from continuing to think up sophisticated new twists for their web crimes, according to Lance Koonce, a New York-based lawyer experienced in web fraud cases. “The trend is that any place a consumer or retailer is in contact with someone, there’s someone else who will find a way to exploit it,” says Koonce.

Koonce tells Internet Retailer that crooks have worked out a couple of new finishing touches for the sites they create in the ruse known as phishing. It’s where the crooks lure victims to a fake sight–like a bogus copy of an online banking site–to steal money, credit card numbers or identification information. Counterfeit versions of shopping sites also could bilk shoppers.

As more people learn about phishing, the ruse becomes harder to perpetrate, so criminals are paying attention to the details. In some cases they now mask the URL at the top of the phony web page with a floating pop-up that mimics the address of the site they’re copying.

As Internet users become more wary of clicking on e-mail messages from unfamiliar sources, the people creating fraudulent sites have learned to insert viruses when e-mails are previewed. The virus alters the computer so that typing in the name of a genuine site, such as a bank, will take the user to a bogus copy of the site.

Other twists aren’t as new as the pop-up disguises and rerouting now used in phishing scams, but they are becoming more widespread, Koonce says. More criminals are employing bullet-proof web hosting to make it almost impossible to track the server or site that puts out fraudulent information, he says. Also on the rise, he adds, are zombie sites–the practice of electronically hijacking a computer to use it to commit crimes.

As life changes on the Internet, the criminal element hurries to keep apace, Koonce says. He points to blogs, which increased in popularity during and after the 2004 elections. Scammers use spambots to prowl blogs and post messages with links that kidnap the user and hold him or her hostage in mazes of sites with themes like online gambling. Not many retailers have blogs now but more may in the future, Koonce says.

The legal community can deal with much of the crime that happens online by maneuvering laws written for the offline world, Koonce says. Sometimes, special legislation is required for new concepts like URLs which don’t correspond exactly with anything in the physical world, he says. Either way, retailers would do well to take legal action against online scammers to keep from being victimized more than once by the same criminal. “You send a message,” he says, “that anyone who’s going to target your company better beware.”


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