How online scammers use disasters to scam people

By Mansi Joshi Jul 13th 2016

When tragedy takes the form of a hurricane or a mass shooting, fraudsters use the reach and anonymity of internet to exploit grief. Watch out for them. 

  • In the wake of natural disasters, epidemics, and the worsening refugee crisis, there are people who exploit victims' emotions and launch cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, people fall prey to them even after the warnings issued by security agencies.  

  • A fake Twitter account that has now been suspended, asked for donations to help victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting, by sending bitcoins to buy aid like water and biscuits. In the aftermath of the Pulse night club shooting, the scammers used the image and the name of the nightclub and the trending hashtag to pull the attention of twitter users. 

  • Scammers pretend to be someone stuck in a war-torn country like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and send phishing mails asking for help to move out. Their strategy: Bait people by offering them a portion of the money being transferred to the scammer's account.

  • The 2015 Nepal earthquake led to security warnings being given by the FBI against scammers who used pop up messages on social media, phishing emails, and even phone calls asking for monetary help by exploiting people’s emotions. 

  • The Ebola-themed emails spread malware by exploiting people’s fear. The emails, sent in multiple languages told people to either download or enable a feature on their devices, which downloaded an infected file onto their systems–giving attackers access to passwords and webcams of the victims. 

  • According to the FBI, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, 2,300 Katrina-related websites came up in the first couple of days. Of the 800 that FBI investigated, 60 percent were found to be fraudulent. The number doubled in the aftermath of the incident, with scammers using phishing and sending virus rigged photos of disaster victims to people. 

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