How to Protect Yourself from Internet Scams and Spam
Chances are that if you are here reading this, you use the Internet for a variety of purposes including searching for health related information. Do a search for any number of health concerns and you will be guaranteed to pull up pages and pages of links to hundreds and possibly thousands of resources. In addition to web sites there are on-line support groups, news groups, and bulletin boards. The Internet opens up a whole world of information and support but it also opens up a world of spam, scams, and downright lies.
People with medical or mental health issues may be particularly vulnerable to the unscrupulous. Many of us would like nothing more than a cure for what ails us or our loved ones. When someone tells us they have some “amazing cure” for our illness, our logic tells us it probably isn’t true but something makes us listen anyway, just in case. It is simply human nature. But there is real danger in trusting those who do not have our best interests in mind. It is very possible to lose money, time, and possibly our health due to unwise choices. So how do we tell what is real and what is just someone trying to sell us the latest miracle cure?
Here are some tips to keep you safe and sane on the Internet:
• Beware of strangers who suddenly appear on support communities emailing you with promises that they have just the thing you need to cure your depression or medical problem.
• Be wary of people who use blanket statements of generalities without ever talking about their own experiences. The treatment they propose may be described as “amazing!” or “100% effective.” They may promise to cure your depression in one day. If it sounds over the top and too good to be true it most likely is.
• Be suspicious of anyone making grandiose statements about a treatment without providing any scientific evidence (peer reviewed independent studies published in reputable scientific journals) to back up what they say.
• Beware of people who suddenly join health groups and communities who attempt to steer you to external web sites selling their products or services when you did not ask for such information.
• Scammers like to use the tactic of telling you that your way of treating your physical or mental illness is the wrong way or that traditional treatments are somehow “dangerous.” They will then attempt to lure you into prescribing their “better way.” Scammers may come onto a health site and incite a public argument just so they can quickly gain attention in order to promote their services or products.
• Reputable treatments with scientific validity stand alone on their own merit. Disreputable companies promoting scams attempt to discredit traditional methods of treatment as a way to promote their product. Beware of people who suddenly appear in your health community disparaging reputable treatments for no apparent reason.
• When you join an on-line support group, make sure you know the terms of service of that particular site. Here are the terms of service for Health Central and My Depression Connection.
Here is our spam policy: You may not post or transmit spam, petitions for signatures, chain letters or letters relating to pyramid schemes. You may not post or transmit any advertising, promotional materials or any other solicitation of other users to use goods or services.
If you find spam on our site please notify us. There are some people who will continuously try to abuse the terms of service in order to market their products or services. One reason spammers keep trying is because they get rewarded by someone who clicks their link. If you see something which is obvious spam, report it to us and do not click on their links.
• In addition to spammers and scammers, some on-line communities may be visited by what is known as a “troll.” Wikipedia describes an Internet troll as:
In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion
Trolls usually enter a community by saying something combative, argumentative, and many times off topic in order to cause trouble. Their game is to pit people against one another and leave the site in disarray. They may use multiple identities or screen names in order to accomplish their mission.
Likewise some spammers may use a similar tactic just so you will take a look at their profile and click on their links out of curiosity. Don't fall for it.
• Beware of strangers on-line who wish to be your instant friend or advisor. They may encourage you to visit their web site or wish to speak with you on the phone so that they can “help” you with your problems.
• Know how to detect a pyramid scheme where the scammer will try to lure you with free seminars or “educational” materials in order to recruit you into paying money for membership, seminars, or even honorary degrees. These people are then expected to go and recruit more members.
• Don’t always trust someone when they say they are a mental health or health professional on-line. This could mean anything. Look for credentials to back up their claim.
• Know that some people on the Internet are not who they say they are. For example, there have been many instances of older men who respond to posts of young teen girls and pretend that they are also a teen girl, encouraging email or phone contact. If your teen uses community groups or sites please advise them to be extremely cautious about not giving out their personal information.
• Please be selective and cautious about sharing your personal information with others on-line and especially people you do not know. Your information could be used in ways that you do not want as in receiving spam or worse.
• There are general rules of expected conduct when you join an on-line community. Here is one guide to Internet Netequitte.
The purpose of an on-line health community is to bring people together to share experiences, information, and resources and perhaps most of all, to give and gain support. Most people who join an on-line community or group for the purpose of support, will take their time to get to know the group and the other members. Spammers and scammers generally have no time for this social nicety although there are exceptions. Most scammers and spammers suddenly appear, do something to get noticed, expose their link to as many people as they can, and then they disappear to their next target.
We have a wonderful community here on My Depression Connection. As the leader for this site I wish to make your visit and stay here as positive and safe as possible. It does take the whole community to make that happen. Be alert and cautious when you are on-line. As with anything, there is good and bad out there. Don’t get fooled by spammers and scammers as that is how they continue to stay in business. Above all, trust your gut. Your instincts will almost always be right.