Emerging Threats

Internet scams based on current events plague users

Authored by a Symantec employee


It’s sad to say, but cybercriminals have learned how to use our emotions against us. When we read media reports about accidents or watch videos of natural disasters on the news, it’s normal to feel empathy for the victims of tragic current events, or even concern for our own safety. Unfortunately, that’s when scammers have learned that we are at our most vulnerable, and they have an array of tools to take advantage of that. Here are just a few of the standard Internet scams that fraudsters trick us into.

Donating to “Charities”

Beware of unsolicited emails from charities that promise to send your donation to victims of “fill-in-the-blank” tragedy. These emails could be attempts by scammers to exploit your generosity. The emails may have links that lead you to fake websites where you can donate money — directly to the cybercriminals, who now have your credit card information. Or you could also end up downloading malware by clicking such links. It’s safer to go directly to the websites of well-known, established charities and relief organizations to learn how you can contribute to the cause and not a fraud. You can also verify a charity’s authenticity on sites like Give.org or Charitynavigator.org.

Helping a friend

Our instincts to help those less fortunate than ourselves could hit even closer to home if we think our friends are victims. When natural disasters strike, another type of “charity” scam could be an email plea from a loved one. The message could say they’ve been vacationing in whatever location that has just been devastated by a natural disaster, and they need money right away to get medical help or fly home. As sad as this plea for help may be, stop and think before you deposit money into your friend’s bank account. If possible, try to reach them by phone. If their only way of communicating is via email, be sure to ask them a question that only they would know the answer to. If a cybercriminal has been tracking your friend’s online accounts with spyware, they may be able to answer some personal questions, but not all. Most important, contact a family member of the friend to verify the story.

Sharing socially

When a scandalous photo or story of a celebrity gets leaked, it doesn’t take long to see related scams pop up across the Web, whether via email or social networking sites. You may get an email, supposedly from a friend, sharing a link to a video. When you click on the link, you get a notification that you need to download a plug-in in order to view the video. Click on it and you could be downloading spyware that will stay on your device and collect any personal information that could be used for identity theft. Remember to delete emails from unknown senders and don’t download unknown plug-ins.

Similar scams on social media sites where users can share videos abound. Be wary before you share a video in your stream, and even more cautious about watching videos shared by your friends— you may be helping cybercriminals spread their threats. If you decide to view a video, you could be directed to a page saying you need to fill out a survey first. The questions may seem basic, but they’re actually designed by scammers to collect information that can be used in spear phishing scams.

How to make news-related scams history

Curiosity, generosity, and sharing are qualities that make us human — as is making mistakes. Don’t let online scammers prevent you from acting on your emotions. Just remember to take the precautions above to help make sure you won’t become the victim of a current events-related scam. And if you think you’ve been scammed, be sure to:

  • Run Internet security software, like Norton Security Premium, to detect and eliminate any malware that you may have downloaded.
  • Change your passwords to your most critical accounts.
  • If you received an email from a friend’s email account that seems to have been hijacked by a cybercriminal, call your friend to let them know the account has been compromised.
  • If you’ve downloaded a bad app, remove it as soon as possible. Next time, use proactive protection like Norton Mobile Security, which can alert you to bad apps before you download them.
  • For social media scams, be sure to post about it, alerting your friends or followers to be careful. Also, report the scam to the social media site’s administrators. 

Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.

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