While the Internet can serve as a powerful tool for consumers, it can also be used by scammers, hackers, and identity thieves to wreak havoc on personal finances. The Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission are providing tips for investing wisely online.
At OnGuardOnline.gov/investing.html, consumers can read up on some ways to avoid investment scams — independently verifying claims, doing research, being skeptical of self-provided references, thoroughly checking out promoters and company officials, finding out where stocks trade, avoiding high-pressure pitches, and considering the source of investment tips. The tips also advise online investors to protect their personal information and passwords, use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, a firewall, and possibly a security token, use extra caution with public computers or wireless connections, and to log out of Web sites completely.
The information is also offered in an online game, “Invest Quest,” to help test investment savvy. As players move around the game board, they are asked questions related to investing online, such as deleting unsolicited requests for personal information, checking investment tips against unbiased sources, and using a security token. Correct answers have players investing wisely, and gaining life milestones: a car, home, education, and retirement. Wrong answers can place players in the unfriendly hands of hackers, identity thieves, and investment scammers.
The tips and game are part of a new section of OnGuardOnline.gov and AlertaenLinea.gov, the Spanish-language version. OnGuard Online is a multimedia, interactive consumer education campaign launched by the FTC and a partnership of other federal agencies and the technology industry. The comprehensive Web site has tips, articles, videos, and interactive activities. There is no copyright on the quizzes or other information on OnGuardOnline.gov; the information can be downloaded by companies and other organizations to use in their own computer security programs. OnGuardOnline.gov and AlertaenLinea.gov have logged more than 2 million unique visits since they launched on September 27, 2005.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.