Glossary of Scam and Fraud Terms
C D E
F G H
K L M
N O P
Q R S
T U W
This glossary of terms and definitions covers scams
and frauds commonly seen on the internet, computers,
postal mail and telephone. Click on the links for more
- Adware - A type of software that often comes with free downloads. Some adware displays
ads on your computer, while some monitors your computer use (including websites
visited) and displays targeted ads based on your use.
- Advanced Fee Fraud - AFF
- a very common scam in which a fee is demanded from the victim in advance of
the victim receiving a lottery winning, a loan, money from a dead relative, etc.
Often these scammers are based in Nigeria, the Netherlands or China.
- Anti-virus Software - Protects your computer from viruses that can destroy your data, slow your
computer's performance, cause a crash, or even allow spammers to send email
through your account.
- Business Opportunities (or Bizopps) - Schemes that typically involve extravagant and unfounded earnings claims and
are actually fraudulent business ventures.
- Browser - A program that allows a user to find, view, hear, and interact with material
on the Internet.
- Browser Hijacker - A common spyware program that changes your web browser's home page
automatically, even if you change it back.
- CAN-SPAM Act - A law that prohibits senders of unsolicited commercial email from using false
or misleading header information or deceptive subject lines, and requires they
identify each email as an advertisement, among other provisions.
- Cashiers Check (or Cheque) - A check from the banks own account,
supposedly the most secure type of check. Unfortunately, these are
very easily counterfeited. Always confirm all aspects of the check
with the issuing bank and with the holder of the account, before considering it to be valid.
- Chat Room - The name given to a place or page in a website or online service where people
can type messages which are displayed almost instantly on the screens of others
who are in the "chat room."
- Computer Fraud - Computers are being used
extensively in financial crimes, not only as an instrument of the crime, but
to "hack" into data bases to retrieve account information; store account
information; clone microchips for cellular telephones; and scan corporate
checks, bonds and negotiable instruments, that are later counterfeited using
desktop publishing methods. In 1986, Congress revised Title 18 of the United
States Code to include the investigation of fraud and related activities
concerning computers that were described as "federal interest computers," as
defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1030.
- Cookies - A small text file that a website can place on your computer's hard drive to
collect information about your activities on the site or to allow other
capabilities on the site.
- Counterfeit check - It
looks like a real check; you can even ask your bak to verify it, and they
will say it's good. But weeks later, it bounces and you owe the bank
and may face criminal charges!
- Credit report -
A report containing detailed information about a person's credit history,
including personal identifying information (such as name, address and social
security number), credit accounts and loans, bankruptcies and late payments,
and recent inquiries. It can be obtained by prospective lenders and others
with access to the system, with the borrower's permission, to determine his
or her creditworthiness.
- Cyberspace - Used to distinguish the physical world from the digital, or computer-based
- Domain - A segment of Internet space, denoted by the function or type of information
it includes; current domains include ".com" for commercial sites, ".gov" for
governmental ones, and ".org" for non-commercial organizations.
- Download - To copy files from one computer to another; to view a website or other web
material with a browser.
- Drive-by Download - Software that installs on your computer without your knowledge when you visit
certain websites. To avoid drive-by downloads, make sure to update your
operating system and Web browser regularly.
- Encryption - The scrambling of data into a secret code that can be read only by software
set to decode the information.
- End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) - A provider's legal terms. You, as the "end user," may be required to "click"
to accept before you can download software.
- Exposure - When sensitive data is released to someone without authorization.
- Extended Service Set Identifier (ESSID) - The name a manufacturer assigns to a router. It may be a standard, default
name assigned by the manufacturer to all hardware of that model. Users can
improve security by changing to a unique name. Similar to a Service Set
- FTC - Federal Trade Commission
- Forgery - Hundreds of millions of
government checks and bonds are issued by the United States each year. This
large number attracts criminals who specialize in stealing and forging
checks/bonds from mail boxes in apartment houses and private homes. During a
fraudulent transaction, a check/bond thief usually forges the payee's
signature and presents false identification.
- Fraud - a scam meant to cheat victims out of the fair settlement
of an agreement by misleading and misrepresenting the facts, method or
outcome, with no intent to fulfill the agreement.
- "Fudiciary officer" - a misspelling of "Fiduciary officer".
Scammers, being largely uneducated criminals, frequently misspell this in
their scams. No legitimate company would make this mistake!
- Filter - Software that screens information on the Internet, classifies its content,
and allows the user to block certain kinds of content.
- Firewall - Hardware or software that helps keep hackers from using your computer to send
out your personal information without your permission. Firewalls watch for
outside attempts to access your system and block communications to and from
sources you don't permit.
- Hacker - Someone who uses the Internet to access computers without permission.
- Hardcover insurance policy - There is no such thing. This is a
term made up by scammers to make victims believe that the victim must pay
additional fees to receive a prize or winning.
- Hidden Dialers - Programs that you may unknowingly download that can use your computer to
silently dial expensive phone calls which later show up on your phone bill.
- Hoax - something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery
intended to gain an advantage. Hoaxes can be relatively benign, intended for
the hoaxster's amusement, or destructive or intended to lead to a theft.
- Identity theft - According to the Federal Trade Commission
regulations, identity theft is a fraud that is committed or attempted, using
a person’s identifying information without authority. Identifying
information is a means of identification. An imposter obtains key pieces of
personal information, such as Social Security or driver's license numbers,
in order to impersonate someone else. The information can be used to obtain
credit, merchandise, and services in the name of the victim, or to provide
the thief with false credentials. In addition to running up debt, an
imposter might provide false identification to police, creating a criminal
record or leaving outstanding arrest warrants for the person whose identity
has been stolen.
- Instant Message (IM) - Technology, similar to a chat room, which notifies a user when a friend is
online, allowing them to "converse" by exchanging text messages.
- Internet Protocol (IP) - The computer language that allows computer programs to communicate over the
- IP Address - A computer's "address," it consists of a series of numbers separated by
- JPEG - Short-hand for "Joint Photographic Experts Group," a computer file format
that reduces the size of graphics by using compression.
- Keystroke Logger - A device or program that records each keystroke typed on a particular
- LAN (Local Area Network) - A network of connected computers that are generally located near each other,
such as in an office or company.
- Lottery - distribution of prizes by chance where the persons taking
part make a payment or consideration in return for obtaining their chance of a
prize. A lottery is a promotional device by which items of value (prizes) are
awarded to members of the public by chance, but which requires some form
of payment to participate. In other words, if you did not buy a ticket,
YOU COULD NOT HAVE WON a lottery - no matter what anyone tells you! Lotteries in
the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, and most developed
countries, are illegal, except when conducted by states and certain
exempt licensed charitable organizations
- Lottery scams - A lottery is a form of gambling which involves the
drawing of lots for a prize. By definition, entrants must purchase a ticket
to be eligible to win. Ticket sales provide the revenue for the cash
prizes. Some governments forbid lotteries, while others endorse them to the
extent of organizing a national lottery (such as Spain and the UK). It is
common to find some degree of regulation of lottery by governments.
Lotteries are most often run by governments or local states and are
sometimes described as a regressive tax, since those most likely to buy
tickets will typically be the less affluent members of a society. The
astronomically high odds against winning have also led to the epithets of
"idiot tax," "tax on stupidity," or "math tax." The phrases are largely
rhetorical (playing the lottery is voluntary; taxes are not), but it is
intended to suggest that lotteries are governmental revenue-raising
mechanisms that will attract only those consumers who fail to see that the
game is a very bad deal. Indeed, the desire of lottery operators to
guarantee themselves a profit requires that a lottery ticket be worth
substantially less than what it costs to buy.
- Lotto is a game where winners are determined by matching the
player's number with numbers that are drawn. If the winning numbers are not
held by a player the prize rolls over and grows. The rolling over of the
prize is crucial to a modern lottery's success, because it creates a large
jackpot which has a significant effect in stimulating sales.
- Malware - software designed to cause harm to the victim where it
is installed; such as stealing identity information, releasing viruses or
worms, or presenting ads.
- MLM - Multi-Level Marketing -
- Media Access Control (MAC) Address - A unique number that the manufacturer assigns to each computer or other
device in a network.
- Money Laundering - the "cleaning of money"
with regard to appearances in law, is the practice of engaging in specific
financial transactions in order to conceal the identity, source and/or
destination of money and is a main operation of underground economy. In the
past, the term "money laundering" was applied only to financial transactions
related to organized crime. Today its definition is often expanded by
government regulators (such as the United States Office of the Controller of
the Currency) to encompass any financial transaction which generates an
asset or a value as the result of an illegal act, which may involve actions
such as tax evasion or false accounting. As a result, the illegal activity
of money laundering is now recognized as potentially practiced by
individuals, small and large businesses, corrupt officials, members of
organized crime (such as drug dealers or the Mafia) or of cults, and even
corrupt states, through a complex network of shell companies and trusts
based in offshore tax havens. The Money Laundering Control Act makes it a
crime to launder proceeds of certain criminal offenses called "specified
unlawful activities" (SUA), which are defined in Title 18, United States
Code,1956, 1957 and Title 18,United States Code, 1961, the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). There is an increase in
money laundering activities as they relate to the area of financial
institution fraud, access device fraud (credit card, telecommunications and
computer investigations), food stamp fraud, and counterfeiting of U.S.
- Monitoring Software - Programs that allow a parent or caregiver to monitor the websites a child
visits or email messages he or she reads, without blocking access.
- Netiquette - The informal rules of internet courtesy, enforced exclusively by other
Internet users. See LAN.
- Network - A group of two or more computers that are able to communicate with one
Nigerian Scam - Con artists pretend to be
officials, businesspeople, or the surviving spouses
of former government honchos in Nigeria or other
countries whose money is somehow tied up for a
limited time. They offer to transfer lots of money
into your bank account if you will pay a fee or
“taxes” to help them access their money. If you
respond to the initial offer, you may receive
documents that look “official.” Then they ask you to
send money to cover transaction and transfer costs
and attorney's fees, as well as blank letterhead,
your bank account numbers, or other information.
They may even encourage you to travel to Nigeria or
a border country to complete the transaction. Some
fraudsters have even produced trunks of dyed or
stamped money to verify their claims.
- Online Profiling - Compiling information about consumers' preferences and interests by tracking
their online movements and actions in order to create targeted ads.
- Operating System - The main program that runs on a computer. An operating system allows other
software to run and prevents unauthorized users from accessing the system. Major
operating systems include UNIX, Windows, MacOS, and Linux.
- Opt-in - When a user explicitly permits a website to collect, use, or share his or her
- Opt-out - When a user expressly requests that his/her information not be collected,
used and/or shared. Sometimes a user's failure to "opt-out" is interpreted as
- P2P, Peer-to-Peer - An informal network that allows users to share music, games, software, or
other files with other users online.
- Parental Controls - Tools that allow parents to prevent their children from accessing certain
Internet content that they might find inappropriate.
- Personal Information - Information that can identify you, like your bank and credit card account
numbers; your income; your Social Security number (SSN); or your name, address,
and phone numbers.
- Phishing - is the act of sending an email that is designed to
trick the recipient into believing that it is from an established
legitimate business, in an attempt to scam the recipient into providing
personal information that will be used for identity theft. When the
recipient clicks on links in the email, it sends the recipient to a website
where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and
credit card, social security, and bank account numbers, that the legitimate
organization already has. The website, however, is fake and set up only to
steal the recipient's information. For example, there have been phishing
scams targeting Bank of America, Pay Pal and eBay. The eBay scam
claimed that the user’s account was about to be suspended unless he clicked
on the provided link and updated his credit card information.
Ponzi Scheme - A Ponzi scheme is closely related to a pyramid because it revolves around
continuous recruiting, but in a Ponzi scheme the promoter generally has no
product to sell and pays no commission to investors who recruit new "members."
Instead, the promoter collects payments from a stream of people, promising them
all the same high rate of return on a short-term investment. In the typical
Ponzi scheme, there is no real investment opportunity, and the promoter just
uses the money from new recruits to pay obligations owed to longer-standing
members of the program. In English, there is an expression that nicely
summarizes this scheme: It's called "stealing from Peter to pay Paul." In fact
some law enforcement officers call Ponzi schemes "Peter-Paul" scams. Many of you
may be familiar with Ponzi schemes reported in the international financial news.
For example, the MMM fund in Russia, which issued investors shares of stock and
suddenly collapsed in 1994, was characterized as a Ponzi scheme.(2)
Promotions, also called Premiums - Premiums
are gifts that companies make available to all
recipients who respond according to the company’s
instructions — for example, a travel bag received
with a new magazine subscription. When everyone who
responds to the offer receives the same gift item,
without any element of chance, the offer is not a
- Pro Forma Invoice -
a bill for something that you did not yet agree to
Skill contests - are
different from sweepstakes offers. In a skill
contest, the winner is determined by skill — not
chance — and an entry fee or purchase may be
required. There are many legitimate skill contests.
For example, in a skill contest you may write a
winning jingle, solve a puzzle, or answer a question
correctly. Your skill or knowledge is what wins the
contest, not chance. Know how the contest works,
what the prizes are, and what the fees are before
paying anything to the company.
Pyramid Scheme - Pyramid schemes now come in so many forms that they may be difficult to
recognize immediately. However, they all share one overriding
characteristic. They promise consumers or investors large profits based
primarily on recruiting others to join their program, not based on profits from
any real investment or real sale of goods to the public. Some schemes may
purport to sell a product, but they often simply use the product to hide their
pyramid structure. There are two tell-tale signs that a product is simply being
used to disguise a pyramid scheme: inventory loading and a lack of retail sales.
Inventory loading occurs when a company's incentive program forces recruits to
buy more products than they could ever sell, often at inflated prices. If this
occurs throughout the company's distribution system, the people at the top of
the pyramid reap substantial profits, even though little or no product moves to
market. The people at the bottom make excessive payments for inventory that
simply accumulates in their basements. A lack of retail sales is also a red flag
that a pyramid exists. Many pyramid schemes will claim that their product is
selling like hot cakes. However, on closer examination, the sales occur only
between people inside the pyramid structure or to new recruits joining
the structure, not to consumers out in the general public.
- Pop-up Messages or Ads - Unsolicited advertising that appears as its own browser window.
- Router - A device that connects two or more networks – typically you have a
router/modem combination to connect multiple computers at home to the internet..
A router finds the best path for forwarding information across the networks.
Common brands are Dlink, Airlink, Buffalo, Linksys.
- Scam - A confidence trick, confidence game, or con for short (also known as a
scam) is an attempt to intentionally mislead a person or persons (known as
the mark or victim) usually with the goal of financial or other gain. The confidence
trickster, con man, scam artist, con artist or scammer often works with an accomplice
called the shill, who tries to encourage the mark by
pretending to believe the trickster. ...
- Scammer - one who creates or perpetrates scams
- Social Networking Sites - Websites that allow users to build online profiles; share information,
including personal information, photographs, blog entries, and music clips; and
connect with other users, whether it be to find friends or land a job.
- Sock Puppet - A secret alias used by a member of an Internet community, but not
acknowledged by that person.
- Software - A computer program with instructions that enable the computer hardware to
work. System software — such as Windows or MacOS — operate the machine itself,
and applications software — such as spreadsheet or word processing programs —
provide specific functionality.
- Spam - Unsolicited commercial email, often sent in bulk quantities.
Also see zombies, below.
- Spammer - Someone who sends unsolicited commercial email, often in bulk quantities.
- Spyware - A software program that may be installed on your computer without your
consent to monitor your use, send pop-up ads, redirect your computer to certain
websites, or record keystrokes, which could lead to identity theft.
- Sweepstakes - a sweepstakes is an advertising or promotional
device by which items of value (prizes) are awarded to participating
consumers by chance, with no purchase or entry fee required to win and
NO FEES or taxes to be paid prior to receiving the prize(s). If
any purchase or payment is required to collect winnings, then, by
definition, it cannot be a sweepstakes or promotion, but may be a
lottery. It is not possible for an
event to be both a lottery AND a sweepstakes.
- Sweepstakes Scams - A sweepstake is technically a lottery in which the
prize is financed through the tickets sold. In the United States the word
has become associated with promotions where prizes are given away for free.
In other words, they specifically do not require a purchase to enter (these
are called prize draws in the United Kingdom). Sweepstakes sponsors are very
careful to disassociate themselves from any suggestion that players must pay
to enter, as this would bring them into conflict with lottery laws. The
popularity of the term sweepstakes may derive from the Irish Sweepstakes,
which was very popular throughout the world from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Sweepstakes typically involve aggressive enticements to enter a contest for
fantastically large prizes like cars or large sums of money; there should be
no cost to the entrant to enter for the prize, with the exception of
possibly being placed on a promotional mailing list. Winners should also not
be required to pay a fee of any type to receive their prize.
Among the commonly known sweepstakes in the United States are the American
Family Publishers Sweepstakes (now defunct), Publisher's Clearing House and
Reader's Digest Sweepstakes, each of which strongly persuade entrants to
purchase magazine subscriptions by placing stickers on contest entry
cardstock, while promising multi-million dollar winners who will be
"announced on TV". The American Family Publishers sweepstakes traditionally
used paid advertisements during NBC's The Tonight Show to announce its grand
prize winners (for many years, its celebrity spokesman was Ed McMahon).
- Telecommunications Fraud -
Telecommunication fraud losses are estimated at more than a billion dollars
yearly. One of the largest "markets" for this type of fraud is the cloning
of cellular telephones, a relatively simple procedure that can be done with
the purchase of over-the-counter electronic equipment. When an individual
transmits with a cellular telephone, the telephone emits a burst of
electronic information. Within this burst of information is the electronic
serial number (ESN), the mobile identification number (MIN) and other
electronic identification signals, all of which can be illegally captured
through the use of an ESN reader. Once captured, this information is
transported through a computer onto microchips in the cellular telephones.
These new telephones can be used for up to 30 days before the fraudulent
charges are discovered. Cell telephones are being used extensively by
organized criminal groups and drug cartels, as well as several Middle
- Trojans - Programs that, when installed on your computer, enable unauthorized people to
access it and sometimes to send spam from it.
- TRUSTe - An online seal program. websites displaying the seal have agreed to abide
with certain principles regarding user privacy. You can access the site's
- Upload - To copy or send files or data from one computer to another.
- URL - a website's address, usually starts
with "http://" or simple "www."
- Virus - A program that can sneak onto your computer — often through an email
attachment — and then make copies of itself, quickly using up all available
- Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) - A security protocol developed to fix flaws in WEP. Encrypts data sent to and
from wireless devices within a network.
- Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) - A security protocol that encrypts data sent to and from wireless devices
within a network. Not as strong as WPA encryption.
- Wireless Network - A method of connecting a computer to other computers or to the Internet
without linking them by cables.
Work-from-Home Scams -
Advertisements promise steady income for minimal
labor — in medical claims processing,
envelope-stuffing, craft assembly work, or other
jobs. The ads use similar come-ons: Fast cash.
Minimal work. No risk. And the advantage of working
from home when it's convenient for you. The ads
don't say you may have to work many hours without
pay, or pay hidden costs to place newspaper ads,
make photocopies, or buy supplies, software, or
equipment to do the job. Once you put in your own
time and money, you're likely to find promoters who
refuse to pay you, claiming that your work isn't up
to their “quality standards.” The Federal Trade
Commission reports that they have yet to find ANYONE
who has gotten rich stuffing envelopes or assembling
magnets at home, or other similar work-from-home
- The World Gaming Board - There is no such
legitimate organization. This is a phrase
invented by scammers. The scammers often refer
to rules or regulations from the "World Gaming
Board"; which is nonsense. Do a Google search
and try to find it.
- World Wide Web - An Internet system which distributes graphical, hyperlinked information
through a browser.
- Worm - A program that reproduces itself over a network and can use up your
computer's resources and possibly shut your system down.
- Zombies - Home computers
that have been taken over by spammers who then use them to send spam in a way
that hides the true origin.