Learn what spyware really is, how it can infect a computer, what it does, and how you can protect yourself: Internet ScamBusters #101
Today's issue is about what you need to know about spyware -- what it really is, how spyware can infect a computer, what spyware does, and how you can protect yourself.
The inspiration for this spyware issue came from two sources:
1. From the survey that many thousands of you answered several months ago about what you want us to cover in Internet ScamBusters. (We are slowly making it through the answers -- but it will take months to read them all!)
One thing is very clear: there is an enormous amount of interest in learning more about spyware, adware, viruses, worms and trojans.
2. A couple of issues ago we told you about a new study by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance that found that most PC users think their computers are safe, and are not aware of all the spyware, viruses, trojans, and other 'malware' infecting their PCs.
We were especially concerned that 80% had spyware or adware on their systems, with most not even knowing the software had been installed!
So, we've decided to create an Internet ScamBusters Anti-Spyware Resource Center. This article is the first in a series we'll cover in the newsletter and on the website about spyware.
So, you can expect to see periodic articles about spyware and viruses from us. In fact, next week's issue will be on one of the most popular spyware removal software programs, along with some updates on other scams.
OK. Let's get going...
What You Need to Know About Spyware
Spyware is a mean villain. Many of us recognize spyware by the name adware, which is a hotly debated topic in the world of cyber security.
But spyware has more than just one face. In fact, adware is one of spyware's least dangerous mutations.
What -- exactly -- is spyware?
Spyware, which is actually 'computer monitoring software,' can take many forms.
Basically, spyware is software that tracks your actions and/or your Internet use. It can capture what you type on your keyboard, including passwords, and send it to the spyware creator.
Its most popular mutation is adware, which is advertisement related monitoring and marketing software. Adware is "a form of spyware that collects information about the user in order to display advertisements in the Web browser based on the information it collects from the user's browsing patterns."
Adware can be found all over the Web. In fact, many 'free' programs are infested with it. It usually comes bundled within a free program such as KaZaa, Grokster, Comet Cursor, HotBar, InternetOptimizer, Gator, Money Tree, etc. etc. etc. The list can be endless.
How can ad related spyware (adware) infect a computer?
If you've ever downloaded a free game, accounting software, cool Web utilities, media players, etc. -- any program offered as free on the Internet -- you're likely infected with a marketing type of spyware (adware).
What does ad-related spyware do?
There are different types of adware programs, but most of them are programmed to record all of your online activities and/or browsing habits. They closely track every single page you visit in order to determine what your interests are. They keep a log of what you do online, and every so often, transmit that data to a remote site, which processes this spyware generated information.
This may or may not sound that harmful to you. However, you haven't even heard the rest.
How can ad-related spyware harm you?
This perhaps seemingly harmless form of spyware has several downfalls. First of all, it generates huge amounts of spam, pop-up ads and advertisement related content.
If the adware determines you visit runner sites, you will be bombarded with ads offering you hot new sneakers, heartbeat monitors, sore muscle remedies, etc. (any commercial item related to running).
Does this mean you only get ads about products you're interested in? In part yes, but the sheer number of ads generated by the spyware can become so bothersome that you can get to the point of not wanting to be online or opening up your email!
And adware causes even greater problems.
Advertising-related spyware can greatly reduce your Internet speed and can cause your CPU usage to artificially go up. Adware can also rob you of great amounts of hard disk storage space.
The amount of online, as well as offline, activity going on in the background -- sending information back and forth to remote sites, feeding you ads, storing ads on your hard drive to ensure you see them online as well as offline, etc. -- can severely interrupt the correct functioning of your computer.
'Browser hijacking' is another characteristic of some truly invasive adware programs. The spyware might change your home page, your default search engine might turn out to be some strange Russian site, weird links might be added to your list of Favorites, new buttons might appear on your toolbar, etc.
Advertising related spyware has also been known to cause many system crashes.
Now the amount of damage you suffer depends on the individual type of spyware installed on your computer.
Many people get so frustrated with the spyware on their computer that they just buy a new computer!
Unfortunately, if they do the same things regarding free software, etc., they'll wind up with the same spyware programs and problems with their new computer.
You can read more about adware in this new article we've written. It's called: The Truth About Adware: Learn How Advertisers Use Adware To Secretly Invade Your Privacy. Visit now.
We'll talk about the most popular spyware removal programs next week.
Wishing you a wonderful, safe week.
7 tips for avoiding timeshare scams:
Internet ScamBusters #99
Today we talk about:
1. Timeshare scams (if you've ever considered buying a timeshare, you need to read this article)
2. Is your computer safe?
3. Scams in the news.
First, a quick announcement. We've just added a new page to our Resource Center on Cars called 'How to Sell a Car: Avoid the Consignment Scam,' which you can find here.
Time to get started...
The sale of real estate by dividing it into 'timeshare' units has become an extremely profitable way for developers to sell real estate - particularly condos in vacation hot spots.
Essentially, buying a timeshare means that you and other people are all buying one property -- and sharing the time you spend in it (hence the name).
Some timeshare properties guarantee you a week a year, others allow for up to 3 weeks annually.
All of them have you pay a portion of the property value itself, and all of them have you pay a 'common area' cost for upkeep on the building and grounds, etc.
Most timeshare units are sold at a 'presentation.' There is almost always some attractive incentive for you to attend the presentation.
Common incentives include discount or free hotel rooms, weekend getaway packages, or prizes. Some of these are legitimate -- the company makes it clear that you need to attend a presentation and they know they can afford to give away incentives because they profitably sell timeshare units.
(We'll talk about a timeshare as an investment in a moment.)
There are also many timeshare scams, and the incentives are where the trouble usually begins...
Timeshares that are scams will offer everything from a new car or boat... to a two-week luxury holiday. It's one thing if they offer you a discount or free hotel room for a couple of nights. It's a totally different thing if they offer a free car or boat or luxury two-week holiday to everyone who just listens to a presentation!
Either way, you'll usually find that the presentation involves very high-pressure sales tactics. Know that going in.
However, the real timeshare scams don't deliver what they promise. For example, one timeshare scam in England involved people being told they had either won a sports boat with an outboard motor, a car or £1000. To claim what they'd won, all they had to do was attend a presentation.
When they arrived at the presentation, everyone had won the sports boat. All they had to do was pay £49.99 for delivery.
The 'prize' they received was a toy dinghy with a small motor, not a real boat. The £49.99 easily paid for the 'prize' and the delivery!
Other scams include having to pay an 'administration fee' for a holiday, or having the company 'go out of business' after they take your deposit.
Another ploy is that attendees are told they can sell the timeshare they already own -- at a very attractive price. However, the sale does not occur... so they are now stuck with two timeshares!
Travel club scams may work the same way: people are invited to a presentation, and offered an amazing prize just for attending. Travel clubs often promise discounted airfares, special travel packages, and remarkable rates on accommodations.
For 10 tips to avoid being taken on travel scams, click here.
Here are 7 things you can do to avoid timeshare scams:
1. Don't ever, ever buy (or sell) 'on the spot.' Sleep on it, and take the time to evaluate whether the deal is a good one.
2. If you are offered a prize as an incentive, read the 'fine print' on the prize, and DON'T PAY for anything.
3. Read the contract and have it reviewed by an attorney. If the sales person promised you something that's not in the contract, don't sign the contract!
4. If the presentation is too high pressure, leave. You have every right to leave when you want. Simply stand up and politely say 'thank you very much but we're leaving now.' Then go -- don't let them argue with you.
5. Ask for references -- and call them. Ask for folks who have been happy and unhappy with the previous service.
6. Don't ever call a 1-900 number to book a trip -- it's very likely a scam.
7. Consider a timeshare the same way you'd consider any other real estate investment. Do research and educate yourself on the market and the value.
Let's now talk for a moment about timeshares as real estate investments. A common question Nolo Press gets asked is "I've been told that I shouldn't buy a timeshare because it will be hard to sell later. Is this true?"
Here's their answer:
"Very likely, yes. Timeshare owners face a few difficulties when they try to sell. The first hurdle is the lack of a strong resale market. Although statistics vary, all studies show that there are many more timeshare owners wanting to sell than there are buyers.
"Another problem is the likelihood that you will lose money on the sale of a timeshare. The original price of a timeshare may have included premiums of up to 40% to cover sales costs. Also, timeshare properties age and can become less desirable. So, your resale price may be anywhere from 20% to 60% of the original purchase price -- plus you will have to pay a commission to the broker (often as high as 20% of the resale price) who sells the property for you."
Some people prefer to look at the costs of a timeshare in terms of the money they spend on their vacations rather than as an investment. Just be sure it makes sense and that you want to go to the same place every year -- or that there are good options for trading which will work for you year after year.
You can read more about timeshare scams and travel scams at:
For an interesting Mexico timeshare fraud alert (that also includes good advice on timeshare scams everywhere), visit:
Is Your Computer Safe?
A new study by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance, a nonprofit organization, found that most PC users think their computers are safe, and are not aware of all the spyware, viruses, trojans, and other 'malware' infecting their PCs.
73% thought their computer was very or somewhat safe from viruses, and 60% said they feel very or somewhat safe from hackers. 67% had outdated anti-virus software, while 15% lacked any anti-virus software at all. 67% also don't have any firewall protection, and half of all broadband users surf the Net without a firewall.
Perhaps most scary was that 80% had spyware or adware on their systems, with most not even knowing the software had been installed.
You can get a copy of the study at:
Scams in the News
28 Identity Theft Suspects Arrested - Operation Firewall
AOL, Microsoft, Earthlink and Yahoo Sue 'Spahamers'
(Free registration required to access these two articles.)
Spyware Opponents Win a Victory Against Sanford Wallace
Time to wrap up. Have a great week.