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Cybercriminals Read the News…and Cash in on It

Cybercriminals these days are not merely hackers looking to tap into your email account; they have evolved into sophisticated crooks who take advantage of any opportunity to set their traps. Not surprisingly, major global events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, offer ideal opportunities for illegal activity, as they provide criminals with an immense audience of millions of potential victims. Even the most tech-savvy consumer should be aware of common online dangers (like search engine poisoning) during high profile happenings.

A prominent example of cybercriminals capitalizing on one such event occurred during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Hundreds of fans from across the globe were duped by a fraudulent site called BeijingTickets.com. The fake site claimed to offer tickets for events, such as the Opening Ceremonies, charging as much as $2,150 per ticket. Only after booking, when the tickets were not delivered as promised, did the victims realize the site was a scam. Since the site had a professional layout, detailed logistical information, a complicated booking process, and included the Olympic logo, many victims didn’t think twice about providing their payment information.

Other popular cons during the 2008 Beijing Olympics included spam emails linked to malware. Spammers used alluring titles like “Are Chinese gymnasts too young for Olympics?”, a controversial issue at the time, to prompt greater open rates. Additionally, one source estimated that phishing scams, used to capture victims’ personal information, rose by a staggering 66 percent during the 2008 Games. Since the FIFA World Cup is currently taking place in South Africa, fans should be aware of these types of online scams in order to avoid becoming victims of cybercrime.

Major sporting events are not the only events that lead to an increase in criminal activity. Cybercriminals also use prominent international news stories, such as the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to implement their schemes. According to the Symantec Spam and Phishing Report, cybercrooks began capitalizing on the Haiti disaster within 24 hours of the event by tricking people into donating funds to phony charities.

The bottom line is that cybercriminals will use any means necessary to earn a buck. However, by staying alert and educating yourself about common internet threats, you can avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime yourself.

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