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Contents

Common Scams and Frauds

Find information on common scams and frauds that can happen to you.

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Coronavirus Scams and Price Gouging

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, scammers may try to take advantage of you through misinformation and scare tactics. They might get in touch by phone, email, postal mail, text, or social media. Protect your money and your identity by not sharing personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth. Learn more about these scams and how to report them.

Common Coronavirus Scams

Scammers change their methods frequently. Current coronavirus scams include:

Testing and treatment scams – Beware of offers for “home” test kits and unknown “miracle” cures. They don’t exist. Scammers are also targeting Medicare recipients and offer COVID-19 testing in an attempt to steal personal information.

FDIC and banking – People pretend to call from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or your bank and say your bank account or your ability to get cash are in danger and ask for your personal information.

Checks from the government – Scammers say they’re from the government and ask for your personal information or try to charge you fake fees for getting your stimulus check or offer you a way to get the money early.

Report Coronavirus Scams

Report a scam to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.

If it’s an online scam, submit your complaint through the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Report Price Gouging

During times of high demand, sellers may raise prices to a very high and unfair level on needed items like:

Household or personal care items

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This is called price gouging and it’s illegal. If you suspect price gouging, report it to your state attorney general.

Telephone Scams

Telephone scammers try to steal your money or personal information. Scams may come through phone calls from real people, robocalls, or text messages. The callers often make false promises, such as opportunities to buy products, invest your money, or receive free product trials. They may also offer you money through free grants and lotteries. Some scammers may call with threats of jail or lawsuits if you don’t pay them.

Report Telephone Scams

It’s important to report phone scams to federal agencies. They can’t investigate individual cases. But your report can help them collect evidence for lawsuits against scammers.

Report telephone scams online to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC is the primary government agency that collects scam complaints.

For more help in resolving consumer issues, you can report scams to your state consumer protection office.

Protect Yourself From Telephone Scams

Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a telephone scam:

Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You may register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you still receive telemarketing calls after registering, there’s a good chance that the calls are scams.

Be wary of callers claiming that you’ve won a prize or vacation package.

Hang up on suspicious phone calls.

Be cautious of caller ID. Scammers can change the phone number that shows up on your caller ID screen. This is called “spoofing.”

Independently research business opportunities, charities, or travel packages being offered by the caller.

Don’t give in to pressure to take immediate action.

Don’t say anything if a caller starts the call asking, “Can you hear me?” This is a common tactic for scammers to record you saying “yes.” Scammers record your “yes” response and use it as proof that you agreed to a purchase or credit card charge.

Don’t provide your credit card number, bank account information, or other personal information to a caller.

Don’t send money if a caller tells you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card.

Banking Scams

Banking scams involve attempts to access your bank account. Use this information to recognize, report, and protect yourself from them.

The most common banking scams include:

Overpayment scams – A scam artist sends you a counterfeit check. They tell you to deposit it in your bank account and wire part of the money back to them. Since the check was fake, you’ll have to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus you’ll lose any money you wired.

Unsolicited check fraud – A scammer sends you a check for no reason. If you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn’t ask for.

Automatic withdrawals – A scam company sets up automatic debits from your bank account to qualify for a free trial or to collect a prize.

Phishing – You receive an email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number.

Report Banking Scams

The proper organization to report a banking scam depends on which type you were a victim of.

Report fake checks you receive by mail to the US Postal Inspection Service.

Contact your bank to report and stop unauthorized automatic withdrawals from your account.

Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]

How to Protect Yourself

Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a banking scam:

Be suspicious if you are told to wire a portion of funds from a check you received back to a company.

Be wary of lotteries or free trials that ask for your bank account number.

Verify the authenticity of a cashier’s check with the bank that it is drawn on before depositing it.

When verifying a check or the issuer, use contact information on a bank’s website.

Don’t trust the appearance of checks or money orders. Scammers can make them look legitimate and official.

Don’t deposit checks or money orders from strangers or companies you don’t have a relationship with.

Don’t wire money to people or companies you don’t know.

Don’t give your bank account number to someone who calls you, even for verification purposes.

Don’t click on links in an email to verify your bank account.

Don’t accept a check that includes an overpayment.

Charity Scams

Some scammers set up fake organizations to take advantage of the public’s generosity. They especially take advantage of tragedies and disasters.

How to Report Charity Scams

Your state consumer protection office can accept and investigate consumer complaints.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC does not resolve individual matters. But it does track charity fraud claims and sues companies on the behalf of consumers.

Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud, if the suspected fraud is because of a natural disaster.

The Do Not Call Registry doesn’t apply to charities. But you can ask an organization not to contact you again.

How to Protect Yourself From Charity Scams

Check out the charity with your state consumer protection office or the Better Business Bureau before you give.

Verify the name. Fake charities often choose names that are close to well established charities.

Don’t give in to high pressure tactics such as urging you to donate immediately.

Don’t assume that you can get a tax deduction for donating to an organization. Use the IRS’s database of 501(c)3 organizations to find out if it has this status.

Don’t send cash. Pay with a check or credit card.

Ticket Scams

Ticket selling scams happen when a scammer uses tickets as bait to steal your money. The scammer usually sells fake tickets, or you pay for a ticket, but never receive it. They are common when tickets for popular concerts, plays, and sporting events sell out.

Ways That Ticket Scammers Go After Your Money

Scammers, including individuals and fake resale companies, take advantage of ticket shortages by:

  • Charging prices much higher than the face value of a ticket
  • Creating counterfeit tickets with forged barcodes and logos of real ticket companies
  • Selling duplicates of a legitimate ticket and emailing it to several buyers
  • Pretending to sell tickets online to steal your credit card information

Report Ticket Scams

There are several options to report a ticket scam.

  • Contact your state consumer protection office.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using the Online Complaint Assistant.
  • File a local police report, especially if you met the scammer in person or have a picture of them to give the police.
  • Report it using the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker.
  • If you paid by credit card, report the problem to the card company. You may be able to dispute the charge.

How to Protect Yourself

Learn what you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Buy tickets at the venue box office.
  • Buy tickets from authorized brokers and third party sellers, with verified contact information.
  • Look for red flags in the ticket offer. If the offer has imperfect English or unusual phrases, the offer could be a scam.
  • Verify that the seller has a real physical addresses and phone numbers. Scammers often post fake addresses, PO Box, or no address on their websites.
  • Check the actual web address of the resale ticket seller. Some scammers create phony websites that closely resemble authentic ticket company websites.
  • Search for negative reviews about the seller. Use the seller’s name, email address, and phone number, along with the words “fraud,” “scams,” and “fake tickets” for your online search.
  • Verify the details on the ticket. Check the date and the time printed on the tickets. Make sure the section and seat numbers actually exist at the venue.
  • Have the seller meet you in person in a public place for the ticket exchange.
  • Ask the seller for proof that they bought the tickets, if you are buying from an individual.
  • Use a credit card to pay third party sellers. Your credit card offers protections, if you need to dispute a charge.
  • Check for complaints against a ticket seller with your state’s consumer protection agency.
  • Don’t wire transfer money to pay for tickets.
  • Don’t trust sellers who want you to pay with a prepaid money card.
  • Don’t meet an individual ticket seller alone or in a low-traffic area.
  • Don’t automatically trust online search results for ticket sellers. Search results can include paid ads, sellers that charge high fees, and scams.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams

Prize scammers try to get your money or personal information through fake lotteries, sweepstakes, or other contests. Many claim that you’ve won a prize but must pay a fee to collect it. Others require you to provide personal information to enter a “contest.” These scams may reach you by postal mail, email, phone call, robocall, or text message.

Report Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams

To report a prize scam:

Contact a postal inspector if the scam uses the U.S. mail .

Federal agencies investigate scams and pursue criminal charges against the scammers. They don’t, however, investigate individual cases. State consumer protection offices might pursue individual cases as well as investigate scams.

Protect Yourself From Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams

Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a lottery or sweepstakes scam:

Check the postage on a mailed prize notice. If it was sent bulk rate, it’s probably a scam.

Ask yourself if you entered a particular contest. If you don’t remember entering it, the prize notice is likely a fake.

Some scammers use the names of organizations that run real sweepstakes. Research the company’s contact information. Contact them to verify if the prize is legitimate.

Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You may register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you still receive telemarketing calls after registering, there’s a good chance that the calls are scams.

Report spam text messages to your mobile carrier, then delete them.

Hang up on suspicious calls.

Don’t pay a fee, taxes, or shipping charges to receive a prize.

Don’t wire money to, or deposit a check from, any organization claiming to run a sweepstakes or lottery.

Don’t provide your credit card number or bank account information to receive a prize.

Don’t automatically believe anyone who says they’re from the government or an official-sounding organization.

Don’t reply to, or click on any links in, a spam text message.

Don’t attend a sales meeting to be eligible to win a prize.

Don’t give in to pressure to take immediate action.

Don’t believe anyone claiming to be from a foreign lottery or sweepstakes. It’s illegal to enter foreign contests like these.

Pyramid Schemes

Pyramid schemes are scams that need a constant flow of new participants to keep them going. They are marketed as multi-level marketing programs or other types of legitimate businesses. They use new recruits’ “investments” to pay “profits” to those participating longer.

Pyramid schemes collapse when they can’t recruit enough new participants to pay earlier investors. These scams always fail—it’s mathematically guaranteed.

Report Pyramid Schemes

Report pyramid schemes to:

How to Protect Yourself

Keep these tips in mind to avoid falling for a pyramid scheme:

Be wary if you have to recruit more participants to increase your profit, or get your investment back.

Ask if the company sells non-tangible products and services rather than physical products.

Ask to see financial statements audited by a certified public accountant (CPA). Find out if the company earns income from selling its products or services to customers, not to its sales team.

Be skeptical of success stories and testimonials of fantastic earnings.

Don’t invest until you’ve verified that the business is legitimate.

Don’t get involved in businesses that make you recruit new participants.

Don’t buy into franchises that promise big or quick profits.

Don’t invest in any “opportunity” bearing warning signs of a pyramid scheme.

Investment Scams

Investment scams promise high returns, without financial risk. Use this information to report and protect your investments.

Report Investment Scams

Report investment scams, if you have been a victim.

Report pyramid or Ponzi schemes to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Report investment scams by state-licensed companies to your state’s securities administrator.

The SEC may forward your complaint to the investment company. It will request that the company reply to your complaint. The FTC will not research your individual case of investment fraud.

How to Protect Yourself

Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of an investment scam:

Research investment opportunities and investment professionals. Your state securities regulator and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority offer information.

Learn where the investment and the investment professional have registered. It may be in your state or with other regulators.

Get all the details of an investment in writing, but still do your own research.

Ask questions about costs, timing, risks, and other issues.

Don’t give in to pressure to invest immediately.

Don’t be influenced by promises that seem too good to be true. These promises may include “guaranteed earnings” or “risk-free” investments.

Don’t invest in something just because the investment professional is nice, seems trustworthy, or has professional titles.

Don’t invest based on claims that other people, “just like you”, have invested.

Don’t feel obligated to invest, even if the professional gave you a gift, lunch, or reduced their fees.

Census scams happen when someone pretends to work for the Census Bureau to steal your personal information. Use this information to learn how these scams work, and protect yourself against them.

Some scam artists may pretend to be work for the Census Bureau. They’ll try to collect your personal information to use for fraud or to steal your identity. These scam artists may send you letters that seem to come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Others may come to your home to collect information about you.

If you suspect fraud, report it to the Census Bureau’s regional office for your state. Forward scam emails to the Census Bureau at [email protected]

How to Protect Yourself

Follow these tips to ensure that your personal information stays safe:

Verify that the study is legitimate. Check the survey name on the Census Bureau’s list of surveys.

If someone comes to your home and claims to be a census worker, verify that they work for the Census Bureau.

Look up the employee’s name in the Census staff directory.

Ask to see their badge. A Census Bureau badge has a picture of the field agent, a Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.

Follow these tips to help you spot census scams, so you don’t become a victim.

Don’t share your full Social Security number, bank or credit card account numbers, or your mother’s maiden name. The Census Bureau won’t ask for this type of information.

Don’t trust emails from claiming to be from the Census Bureau. This agency sends letters to invite individuals to take part in its surveys. If you get an email from the Census Bureau, it’s probably a scam.

Don’t trust caller ID. Call the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center to verify a telephone survey.

Ponzi Schemes

A Ponzi scheme is a type of investment fraud. Use this information to identify, report, and protect yourself against these scams.

How Ponzi Schemes Work

Ponzi schemes rely on money from new investors to pay “returns” to current investors. To keep the scheme running, organizers need to keep recruiting new investors and try to keep current investors from cashing out. When they can’t, the scheme collapses.

Report Ponzi Schemes

Report Ponzi schemes to:

How to Protect Yourself From Ponzi Schemes

Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself from Ponzi schemes:

Be wary of any investment that regularly pays positive returns regardless of what the overall market is doing.

Avoid investments if you don’t understand them or can’t get complete information about them.

Be alert to account statement errors, which may be a sign of investment fraud.

Be suspicious if you don’t receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out.

Don’t put your money in investments that promise big returns with little to no risk.

Don’t contribute to any investment that isn’t registered with the SEC or with state regulators.

Don’t get financially involved with any unlicensed investment professional or unregistered firm.

Government Grant Scams

Government grant scammers try to get your money by guaranteeing you a grant for costs like college or home repairs. They ask for your checking account information. With it, they say they will “deposit the grant money into your account” or withdraw a “one-time processing fee.”

In reality, government grants are rarely awarded to individuals. They usually go to state and local governments, universities, and other organizations. The money is awarded to help pay for research and projects that benefit the public.

Report Grant Scams

If you think you’ve been a victim of a government grant scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint with the FTC:

The FTC enters fraud-related complaints into a database available to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

If you’ve paid a fee to learn about or apply for a government grant, you can report it to your state consumer protection office. The government does not charge for information or applications for federal grants.

Protect Yourself From Grant Scams

Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a grant scam:

Be wary of advertisements and calls about free government grants. These are usually scams.

Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. This may reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. You can register:

By calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register

Don’t give your bank account information to anyone you don’t know.

Don’t pay any money for a government grant. You can get information about government grants for free at public libraries and online at Grants.gov. Government agencies don’t charge processing fees for grants they’ve awarded.

Don’t believe callers who claim they’re from an official-sounding government agency with news about a grant. Check out the name of the agency online or in the phone book—it may be fake.

Don’t assume a phone call is originating from the area code displayed on your caller ID. Some scam artists use technology to disguise their location and make it appear as if they’re calling from Washington, DC.

Do you have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They’ll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

Coronavirus Scams Spread as Fraudsters Follow the Headlines

Be wary of people pushing products or stocks that promise a cure

by John Waggoner, AARP, March 9, 2020 | Comments: 0

Anton Petrus / Getty Images

En español | Coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have sent warnings to seven companies for selling products that would allegedly cure or prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “These products are unapproved drugs that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law,” the two agencies said in a news release Monday.

The FTC and FDA jointly issued warning letters to Vital Silver; Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.; Xephyr, LLC, doing business as N-Ergetics; GuruNanda, LLC; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy LLC; and The Jim Bakker Show. The products cited in these warning letters include teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.

No vaccines or drugs have been approved specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Other scammers could offer in-demand coronavirus supplies, such as surgical masks, and simply not deliver them. In Great Britain, for example, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said there had been 21 reports of fraud since Feb. 10, many of which involved scams over masks, with one victim paying about $19,700 for masks that never arrived.

Beware coronavirus stock scams

More on Coronavirus

Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

Quack cures and fake products aren’t the only kind of coronavirus scam. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission warned investors last month about fraudsters touting stocks of companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. Buy those stocks now, they say, and they will soar in price.

But the con artists have already bought the stocks, which typically sell for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases, the con men dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses. It’s a classic penny-stock fraud called “pump and dump.” Making matters worse: You may not be able to sell your shares if trading is suspended, the SEC warns.

“When investing in any company, including companies that claim to focus on coronavirus-related products and services, carefully research the investment and keep in mind that investment scam artists often exploit the latest crisis to line their own pockets,” the SEC says.

Watch out for online phishing schemes

The coronavirus scams don’t stop with useless cures and bogus stock pitches. Check Point, a cybersecurity firm, notes that coronavirus websites — those with “coronavirus” or “covid” in the domain name — are 50 percent more likely to be malicious than other domains.

The trap is triggered when you contact those malicious domains: You could start getting emails from fraudsters in an attempt either to plant malware on your computer or to get your personal information.

These attacks, called phishing, resemble email from organizations that look legitimate. When you click on an email or download a file, you could get a program on your computer that could either use your computer’s internet connection to spread more malware, or dig into your personal files looking for passwords and other information.

Beware of These 11 Facebook Scams

Putting Yourself at the Risk of Social Media Scams

PeopleImages / Getty Images

If you are on Facebook, then you are putting yourself at risk of scams. These activities are prevalent on Facebook and other social network sites. You should always approach something that doesn’t look right with caution. Be on the lookout for duplicate accounts, viral videos, stolen accounts, requests for money, contests, coupons, and promises of love.

Top Facebook Scams

  1. Duplicating Accounts: One way that scammers trick those on Facebook is to imitate the email template from Facebook, which makes it look like you have an official message. Once you enter login information, the phishers can duplicate your account, hold it for ransom, or begin asking your friends for money or information.
  2. Viral Videos: Viral videos are huge on social media pages, especially if they are racy, shocking, or scandalous. However, since they are irresistible to most of us, they are also perfect bait for scammers. When you click on one of these videos, you will be asked to update your video player, and, when you do, it downloads and installs a virus onto your system. It also shares the same scam with your friends, who believe the message they receive is safe since it looks like you shared it.
  3. Identity Theft: Facebook accounts can be used to crack other passwords. If your account is duplicated, your information can be used to determine the answers to knowledge-based authentication questions that verify the identity of the account owner. Multi-factor authentication is a good idea to use on all of your accounts.
  4. Give me money, I’ll return even more!: After duplicating your friend’s account, scammers are using the account to get you to pay them with the promise of returning much more. Your “friend” will tell you that they paid an amount and received a huge return, and recommend you do it too.
  5. Burglary: Criminals also use Facebook to determine if a potential victim is at home or not. Publicly sharing information about vacations and other times away is exactly what burglars are looking for.
  6. Free coupons: You have probably seen this many times. You are promised free coupons at large retailers worth more than usual, or coupons for a free vacation. All you need to do is use your Facebook login on a site, and you’ll get a free vacation—or your social media identity will belong to someone else without the vacation.
  7. Geo-Stalking: Using the idea of geo-stalking, a criminal can use the GPS technology of social media to stalk and find a target. You should turn off your social media location settings.
  8. Is this you? Lol: This is a scam that has been around for some time. Usually, a link to a video is included with a description from a “friend.” The link is normally a virus or browser hijacker.
  9. The “Who Viewed Your Profile?” and “So and so unfriended you!” Scams: If you are active on Facebook, you have probably seen these. Facebook does not advertise these types of activities.
  10. Contest Scams: This is another common scam, and it is as simple as setting up a fake page on Facebook, marketing it with a great contest, and collecting information from everyone that joined. One such scam claimed that those who shared the link would get a $1,000 IKEA gift card, and more than 40,000 people fell for it.
  11. Love scams: The good-looking deployed American serviceman/woman or an alluring lonely foreigner hoping to get to America are common themes used to find unwitting targets. Many people feel alone and become entwined in a social media affair where the person eventually asks for money to get “back to America” or travel there with promises of seeing their “loved one.” Once the money is transferred, the distant lover disappears.

Money Is Never Quickly Made

The concepts behind defeating these scams are fairly simple in theory. Don’t click on unknown links and remember that nothing is ever free. There probably is not a gorgeous international prince or princess interested in you out of the blue (unfortunately).

No businesses or friends are going to offer you lots of money, and there are no methods of making quick fortunes. Check with your friends before chatting with them, and report any suspicious activity to the social media service provider and law enforcement.

On the Internet

New E-Scams & Warnings

To report potential e-scams, please go the Internet Crime Complaint Center and file a report. Note: The FBI does not send mass e-mails to private citizens about cyber scams, so if you received an e-mail that claims to be from the FBI Director or other top official, it is most likely a scam.

If you receive unsolicited e-mail offers or spam, you can forward the messages to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]

Internet Fraud

Protect yourself and your family from various forms of Internet fraud.

How to Protect Your Computer

The same advice parents might deliver to young drivers on their first solo journey applies to everyone who wants to navigate safely online. A special agent in our Cyber Division offered the following:

  • “Don’t drive in bad neighborhoods.”
  • “If you don’t lock your car, it’s vulnerable; if you don’t secure your computer, it’s vulnerable.”
  • “Reduce your vulnerability, and you reduce the threat.”

Below are some key steps to protecting your computer from intrusion:

Keep Your Firewall Turned On

A firewall helps protect your computer from hackers who might try to gain access to crash it, delete information, or even steal passwords or other sensitive information. Software firewalls are widely recommended for single computers. The software is prepackaged on some operating systems or can be purchased for individual computers. For multiple networked computers, hardware routers typically provide firewall protection.

Install or Update Your Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is designed to prevent malicious software programs from embedding on your computer. If it detects malicious code, like a virus or a worm, it works to disarm or remove it. Viruses can infect computers without users’ knowledge. Most types of antivirus software can be set up to update automatically.

Install or Update Your Antispyware Technology

Spyware is just what it sounds like—software that is surreptitiously installed on your computer to let others peer into your activities on the computer. Some spyware collects information about you without your consent or produces unwanted pop-up ads on your web browser. Some operating systems offer free spyware protection, and inexpensive software is readily available for download on the Internet or at your local computer store. Be wary of ads on the Internet offering downloadable antispyware—in some cases these products may be fake and may actually contain spyware or other malicious code. It’s like buying groceries—shop where you trust.

Keep Your Operating System Up to Date

Computer operating systems are periodically updated to stay in tune with technology requirements and to fix security holes. Be sure to install the updates to ensure your computer has the latest protection.

Be Careful What You Download

Carelessly downloading e-mail attachments can circumvent even the most vigilant anti-virus software. Never open an e-mail attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of forwarded attachments from people you do know. They may have unwittingly advanced malicious code.

Turn Off Your Computer

With the growth of high-speed Internet connections, many opt to leave their computers on and ready for action. The downside is that being “always on” renders computers more susceptible. Beyond firewall protection, which is designed to fend off unwanted attacks, turning the computer off effectively severs an attacker’s connection—be it spyware or a botnet that employs your computer’s resources to reach out to other unwitting users.

Risk of Peer-to-Peer Systems

The FBI is educating and warning citizens about certain risks and dangers associated with the use of Peer-to-Peer systems on the Internet. While the FBI supports and encourages the development of new technologies, we also recognize that technology can be misused for illicit and, in some cases, criminal purposes.

Peer-to-Peer networks allow users connected to the Internet to link their computers with other computers around the world. These networks are established for the purpose of sharing files. Typically, users of Peer-to-Peer networks install free software on their computers which allows them (1) to find and download files located on another Peer-to-Peer user’s hard drive, and (2) to share with those other users files located on their own computer. Unfortunately sometimes these information-sharing systems have been used to engage in illegal activity. Some of the most common crimes associated with Peer-to-Peer networks are the following:

Copyright Infringement: It is a violation of federal law to distribute copyrighted music, movies, software, games, and other works without authorization. There are important national economic consequences associated with such theft. The FBI has asked industry associations and companies that are particularly concerned with intellectual property theft to report to the FBI—for possible criminal investigation and prosecution—anyone that they have reason to believe is violating federal copyright law.

Child Exploitation and Obscenity: The receipt or distribution of child pornography and unlawful obscenity over the Internet also is a serious federal crime. The FBI cautions parents and guardians that, because there is no age restriction for the use of Peer-to-Peer services, pornography of all types is easily accessible by the many young children whose parents mistakenly believe they are only accessing music or movies. In fact, children may be exposed to pornography—and subsequently lured by sexual predators—even though they were not searching for pornography, as some network users deliberately mislabel the names of files for this purpose.

Computer Hacking: Peer-to-Peer networks also have been abused by hackers. Because these systems potentially expose your computer and files to millions of other users on the network, they also expose your computer to worms and viruses. In fact, some worms have been specifically written to spread by popular Peer-to-Peer networks. Also, if Peer-to-Peer software is not properly configured, you may be unknowingly opening up the contents of your entire hard drive for others to see and download your private information.

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