The devastation of this week’s horrific hurricane has just begun being enumerated. Destroyed homes, upended and soaked cars, roads washed out and the many thousands of trees felled are the most visible signs of the horror. Too many lives were tragically lost as well. But as with tragedies in the past, such as Katrina and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, cyber fraud travels in every storm’s wake.
Some of the fraud is just humor gone foul. Doctored photos, such as the one at left showing a bizarre cloudy sky above the Statue of Liberty, went viral. And then there were several humorous versions, clearly meant to provide a laugh when it was sorely needed. I love this one (at right).
Other images were taken from completely unconnected events, with new titles or misleading headlines. To deceive people with images is disturbing and could make people lose trust in the media and photography.
Social media was enormously important for people going through the storm’s fury. They could vent, report their situation, crack jokes, and ask for help, all on social networks like Facebook and microblogs like Twitter. Even when people lost power, they were sometimes able to get important messages out on their charged mobile devices. You can imagine how precious those messages were to their friends and family in other locations, just to know they were ok. And then, it turned out that some of the reporting was fraudulent. These stories, most notably that the New York Stock Exchange was submerged in several feet of water, were picked up by credible news agencies and retweeted hundreds of times.
Worse awaits – as history teaches, we can expect to see fake charity websites pop up. There will be so many legitimate fundraisers, and it’s shameful that crooks will take advantage of our helpful, charitable nature during times of crises. Be suspicious of charity emails you may receive, especially from any with names you fail to recognize. Make sure you type the name of the charity website yourself, don’t follow a link. Stick with well-known and vetted charities, like the American Red Cross. You can also check any charity out at a helpful website that evaluates and rates them. You may even receive text messages, asking you to reply to donate straight from your mobile account. Some of these are safe; some aren’t. So, do your homework before you click and always follow the guidance of the “Stop.Think.Connect.” program.
Residents of the stormed out area will also be targets for other scams: people claiming to need help will accost them for donations; contractors will cold-call and take payments to purchase supplies and never return to do the actual work. Senior citizens and others with limited mobility may be particularly vulnerable to these crooks.
Even if these stories of cyber and in-person scams can take away your faith in humanity, there are far more stories of bravery, of kindness, of neighbors reaching out to each other. Look at this photo, taken in Hoboken, NJ, of one person's assistance to the many strangers still without power.
Take the necessary precautions to avoid being tricked by Hurricane Sandy cyber and real world crooks and fraudsters and report them to authorities if you are faced with any of them.
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More information about Hurricane Sandy-related spam on Symantec's Connect blog.