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Feeding off the Misery of Others

I love the internet – a good thing when working for an internet hosting company… I think it has a lot of good to offer and has revolutionised so many aspects of life. However there is a dark side to it and one that seems to be growing.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this dark side is scammers launching campaigns off the back of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, celebrity deaths etc. They prey on the fact that people are looking for more information or want to donate to a cause to scam individuals into handing over sensitive details or to infect their machines with malware.

Over the past week there have been two prime examples. The first came with the horrific car bomb and shooting in Norway on Friday. The day after, a scam started spreading through Facebook: A post claimed to link to footage from a security camera that captured the Oslo bomb. According to security firm Sophos, clicking on the link redirects victims off-site to a fake video player that imitates Facebook. They’re asked to take a survey, and then presented with an IQ test. After that, they’re asked to enter a mobile phone number that will charge the victim $2 per trivia question, four times per week.

The second was the death of Amy Winehouse. Again, a video link on Facebook was the weapon of choice for the scammers. This time it claimed to show shocking footage of the moments leading up to the singer’s death, and clicking on the link resulted in a similar fate to the supposed video of the Oslo bomb.

The earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand as well as the Tsunami in Japan have each lead to this wave of scams infiltrating social networks and search engines.

Unfortunately no matter how devastating the event, some people just see pound signs rather than pain. This was happening a long time before the internet existed; the internet has simply made it far easier to execute.

We are not going to stop people trying to profit off others misery. What everyone can do though is to be vigilant and not click on the scammer’s links, or if we do, not give them any details. A reputable source is not going to ask for your phone number to view a video; if you have not heard of the site before, think before clicking on the ‘exclusive’ footage.

In a world where everyone wants to see the breaking news first, it can be worth pausing for a couple of minutes before following that enticing link.

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