An Internet fraud (online scam) is the use of Internet services or software with Internet access to defraud victims or to otherwise take advantage of them; for example, by stealing personal information, which can even lead to identity theft. Internet services can be used to present fraudulent solicitations to prospective victims, to conduct fraudulent transactions, or to transmit the proceeds of fraud to financial institutions or to others connected with the scheme.
Research suggests that online scams can happen through social engineering and social influence. It can occur in chat rooms, social media, email, message boards, or on websites.
According to the FBI, on April 26, 2005, Tom Zeller Jr. wrote an article in the New York Times regarding a surge in the quantity and quality of the forging of United States postal money orders, and its use to commit online fraud.
A fraudster posts a non-existent vehicle for sale to a website, typically a luxury or sports car, advertised for well below its market value. The details of the vehicle, including photos and description, are typically lifted from sites such as Craigslist, AutoTrader.com and Cars.com. An interested buyer, hopeful for a bargain, emails the fraudster, who responds saying the car is still available but is located overseas.
Or, the scammer will say that he is out of the country but the car is with a shipping company. The scam artist then instructs the victim to send a deposit or full payment via wire transfer to initiate the “shipping” process. To make the transaction seem more legitimate, the fraudster will ask the buyer to send money to a fake agent of a third party that claims to provide purchase protection.
The unwitting victims wire the funds, and subsequently discover they have been scammed. In response, auto sales websites often post warnings to buyers; for example, those on Craigslist, which warn not to accept offers in which vehicles are shipped, where funds are paid using Western Union or wire, etcetera, requesting those postings to be flagged as abuse.