The earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, the death of Osama Bin Laden, tornadoes in the United States--these were all newsworthy events. But these events also gave criminals the opportunity to con consumers out of their money or sabotage their computers. You've probably heard about the scams related to charitable donations. Did you also realize that Internet scams can be related to the news itself?
Increasingly, criminals are tying their schemes to breaking news events. These can include the deaths of celebrities, bank mergers and failures, natural disasters and more.
One way scammers might attack is offering the temptation to view exclusive news coverage, such as a photo of Osama Bin Laden's body or a video of the tornado that caused much devastation. Wise consumers, though, will remember the old saying, "Curiosity killed the cat." If the major news carriers haven't broken a story or posted video footage of an event, it is not likely that an unknown source is going to have better access to the information.
Another tactic is for cybercriminals to tamper with the search results of the major search engines, making the links point to malware. Scammers also sometimes post fictitious news stories about products or services that entice readers to make a purchase.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from news-related scams:
1. Be sure that all of your software, including your security suite, Web browser, and operating system are up to date.
2. Get your news from credible sources, such as major news organizations. Use your browser's favorites or bookmarks or type the trusted url into your browser manually.
3. Immediately delete e-mails claiming to contain news information.
4. Do not respond to any spam e-mail and never click on links within the e-mails. (Clicking on links can download malicious software onto your computer.)
5. Only open an e-mail attachment if it is from someone you know, only if you were expecting the message, and only after it has been virus-scanned. When in doubt, contact the person before opening the attachment to verify that the message is real.
6. Avoid clicking on links on social networking pages or in posts.
7. If you click on a search result expecting to be directed to a news site and find yourself on a different page (an advertisement, a survey, or a "download this codec" page), back out of the site as quickly as possible, preferably by closing your browser.
8. Forward suspected spam e-mails to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org and to the abuse desk of the sender's ISP.
We don't know what newsworthy event will be coming tomorrow, next week, or next month. But one thing is for certain--the scams will quickly follow! Staying alert will make you much less likely to become their next victim.