Internet Scams

Unfortunately, the same technology that allows you to play your favorite casino games on your computer also allows unscrupulous operators to set up all-too-convincing Web sites and e-mail messages that allow them to steal your money and even your personal information, such as your social security number or driver's license number. Usually, these fake Web sites look enough like the real thing that it's easy to be scammed if you aren't paying close attention. But you can protect yourself by following some basic, commonsense rules for online transactions.

First, make sure any online casino you decide to join uses a secure server to transmit your personal information. In most Windows-based programs, you'll see a dialog box advising you that you are about to enter or leave a secure Web site; when you're on a secure site, a small padlock icon will appear in the lower right corner of the screen. Secure servers use encryption codes to prevent unauthorized people from capturing your data while it's being transmitted; the information is decoded only after it is received by the secure server.

Second, proceed with caution whenever you receive an e-mail from an Internet company that asks you for credit, banking, or other personal information, even if it's from a company you've done business with in the past. This is a popular ploy for Internet scam artists, and it's relatively easy for them to make such messages appear legitimate with copied graphics. If you receive a message asking you to confirm any personal information, do not reply via e-mail. Instead, call the customer service number for the company and verify that the e-mail message is legitimate. If it isn't, ask the customer service representative to file a report of the scam with his or her supervisor. You also might want to consider notifying the consumer protection division of your state attorney general's office.

One way to limit your exposure for fraud is to open a separate credit card with a small limit, say $500 or less. Use this card only for your online gambling. This will make it easier to identify fraudulent or unauthorized charges in the event your card number is stolen, and your other credit accounts will be secure.

Third, and perhaps most important, read all information on a gambling site with a healthy dose of skepticism. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is; don't fall for promises or claims that are vastly different from those you've seen on other sites. If most online casinos are offering a 25 percent sign-up bonus, for example, be sure to read the fine print when you come across one with a 75 percent bonus. There may be a catch — or several catches — to claiming the bonus. Assume there is, and search until you find it.

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