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Japan Earthquake Scams Spreading Quickly

McAfee Total Protection: Consumer Threat Alerts

McAfee Total Protection - March 16, 2011 Users should beware of phony donation requests and dangerous links, McAfee warns

Just hours after a devastating 9.0 earthquake hit northeast Japan on Friday, scammers were already busy designing online scams to trick consumers out of their information and money. McAfee has already uncovered phishing emails related to the disaster and a suspected scam site erected just two hours after the earthquake.

Cybercriminals often take advantage of natural disasters to trick Internet users when they are vulnerable and looking for information. McAfee has seen similar types of scams following the earthquake in Haiti last year. Consumers should be on alert for these threats in their inboxes, as well as in search results and on social media, and take measures to protect themselves.

Here are some examples of the scams that are circulating to help you identify and avoid them:

The Scams:

1) Phony “donate” emails and websites—These spam emails may look like they are coming from a legitimate organization, such as the Red Cross and other relief groups, asking for donations to help victims of the disaster. They usually include a link that goes to a phony website that asks for your credit card details and other personal information. You may also stumble across these dangerous sites while doing an Internet search for information on the earthquake. For example, we found a site with a legitimate sounding address that redirects to a page with a suspicious PayPal button.

Or, you could get a spam email that appears to be a personal plea from a victim or aid worker, asking for monetary help. For instance, we found a spam from a woman claiming to be a “humanitarian” setting up a fund to help the victims, and asking for donations.

2) Malicious videos/images—Scammers are spreading malicious links to “dramatic” videos of the disaster. So, when you search for news on the earthquake or tsunami you may end up clicking on a link that actually downloads malware onto your machine, or takes you to a phishing site that asks for personal information. Clicking on images related to current news searches can also be dangerous.

3) Social media tricks—In addition to sending spam emails and poisoning search results with dangerous links, cybercrooks are also posting donation requests and links to malware on social networking sites.

The Dangers: You could have your money and credit card information stolen, as well as your identity information. Bottom Line: Be suspicious of unsolicited donation requests and links related to big news events like the Japan earthquake, especially if they sound desperate or overly dramatic.

Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim:

1) Never respond to a donation request that arrives via a spam email, text or instant message, especially requests that sound overly urgent. Also, be wary of any request posted to social media.

2) Be suspicious of any links that promise “dramatic videos” or images related to the disaster, especially if it is a shortened URL and you cannot see where the link is heading.

3) Remember that anyone can register a “.Org domain” and having one doesn’t indicate that the organization has a charitable status. If you are planning to donate, double check that the site’s domain is legitimate. Look for misspellings, odd grammar and other tips that the site may be a fake.

4) When you are searching for news on a natural disaster or other hot topic use a safe search tool like McAfee® SiteAdvisor® software, which tells you if a site is safe to click on or not right in your search results.

If you would like to donate to the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan, go to your browser and type in the website address of a well-established international organization. While not an all inclusive list, using McAfee SiteAdvisor and McAfee SECURE technologies, researchers have determined the following sites to be secure:

  • American Red Cross
  • Give2Asia
  • Global Giving
  • International Medical Corps
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC
  • Mercy Corps
  • World Vision

    Tips on What to Do If You Have Become a Victim:

    You’re a victim, now what?

    1) If you have given your credit card or other personal information to the scammers, immediately call your credit card company to report the issue and place a hold on the card.

    2) Contact the Cybercrime Response Unit at www.mcafee.com/cru, an online help center for advice and technical assistance, if you think you’ve been a victim of a cybercrime.

    3) Make sure your computer is protected from malware by installing a complete security software suite that includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection, such as McAfee Total Protection™ software. Ensure that your operating system and anti-malware software are always up to date (enable the “auto-update” feature) and perform regular scans.

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