04/03/10 - Article No: 92

Top Threats Online in 2010

With so many different threats facing Internet users, we compile our list of what we think will be the top 5 online threats duping victims this year.

Social Networking Scams

Scams and hoaxes operating almost solely on social networking sites have seen a dramatic rise in 2009, and the surge appears to continue throughout 2010. Because of the nature of social networking sites, starting viral scams or hoaxes has never been easier. Scams are usually designed to get the social network user to unwittingly spread the scam themselves, in order for it to propagate successfully. One of the sites hit hardest by online fraud is the most popular social networking site on the planet, Facebook. One of the more common examples of scams is the “Facebook Group Scam” where scammers set up a Facebook group which offers something in return for the Facebook member getting all of their friends to join. By the time the Facebook member realises whatever is on offer does not exist, they have already invited their friends who will typically make the same mistake. The Facebook group set up by the scammers may just be a time wasting hoax, or may contain links to harmful external websites, meaning there is a sinister side to these social networking scams.

Facebook do try and remove offending groups as soon as possible, and have implemented code to prevent viral rumours from spreading through their chat and mail features, but alas the problem continues to grow. For more information on Facebook hoaxes and scams, click here.

Whilst Facebook is certainly the most prolific breeding ground for social networking scammers, sites like Bebo, MySpace and Twitter have all had their share of scams operating within their site boundaries, including phishing emails sent appearing to be from the respective site that are either designed to install malware onto the victims computer or steal their personal details, including passwords.

More Advanced Retail Website Scam Sites

Sites that simply claim to sell cheap products and steal a buyers money after they are told to pay through money order, Western Union or Paypal are scams that have been operating with limited success for many years. Often dubbed Wholesale Scams, Chinese Electronic scams (usually the cheap goods are electronics and the scammers from China) or Online Reseller Scams, these scams have enjoyed more success of late due to the fact that setting up convincing websites has never been easier. Typically these sites use "storefronts" which are essentially templates offered by larger sites that allow the scammer to set up a site without having to be particularly technically adept.

The more convincing these sites look, the more people are willing to hand over their money in order to buy deals that look to good to be true. Also, with other scams leading to identity theft also becoming more successful, many of these sites do not even need to accept payment through Western Union, which before was always such an accurate giveaway. Compromised PayPal accounts are often used to accept payments, as well as money orders.

However, the WHOIS check is still valid way of checking up on a site – this checks the registration date of the domain. Never deal with recently created domains. To learn how to use the WHOIS feature, you can click here.

However, with law enforcement still unable to shut down these sites within a reasonable time frame of them appearing, these sites can still operate for months before disappearing, even if they are reported.
This fact coupled with the short timeframe and little expense to create these sites in the first place, wholesale scams look to continue to be a major problem for online users all the way through 2010.

For our article on wholesale scams, click here.

Scareware Malware

One of the most common types of malware installation that was reported to us in 2009, and so far in 2010 is scareware installations. By far.

Scareware is designed to confuse the victim into thinking that their computer is infected with Trojan horses and viruses. A screen or message will appear on the victim’s computer reporting that the victim’s computer is infected with viruses, which technically is true, but it is not the displayed threats that are installed on the computer, rather it is the screen displaying the threats which is the threat itself. Scareware basically pretends to be anti-virus software. The aim is to scare the user into buying fake anti-virus software, as it will claim the user has to purchase the “full copy” of the software. Only trust YOUR antivirus software, nothing else. Often these scareware applications will have catchy names like AntiVirus Pro 2010 or AntiMalware 2010, but they are just viruses. Additionally, removing scareware is difficult, because they usually disable the victim from doing anything truly useful on their computer, like launching programs or visiting websites, often claiming it is a “security threat” – what it actually means is by doing something like that may result in you being able to remove it, so it will not let you.

There are ways however, and the best advice is to get a different computer and Google the name of the scareware application followed by removal. For example type into Google “Antimalware 2009 removal”.

We do have a more comprehensive article of scareware scams here. But for now it remains on our list, as the most prolific type of malware installation reported to our site.

Illegal Get-Rich-Quick Pyramids and Cash Gifting

Illegal pyramid scams and Ponzi schemes have been a prolific problem online now for a number of years, and of all the scams, it is these that seem to give organisations like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the biggest headaches with many updated FTC guidelines being recently released clearly targeted at these schemes.

Illegal Pyramids are essentially schemes that try to look like Multi-Level Marketing schemes (MLM) but place the priority on recruiting new members as opposed to selling products. Any scheme that uses the pyramid structure (i.e. people recruit others who are underneath them, and they recruit others and so on) must have an incoming income stream consisting mostly of product sales. Any scheme that makes money mostly or solely from registration fees of new members is either a Ponzi scheme or an illegal pyramid scheme, doomed to failure at some point.

For years they were relatively easy to spot, offering no product but just claiming that if you pay to join and get others to join, you will work your way up a pyramid earning more and more money from people who join at the bottom. Creators tried to take advantage of a loophole in the law by claiming that the money was a gift making it illegal. However cash gifting schemes like this are still illegal and punishable by law in most developed countries. See this FTC Alert.

With FTC guidelines and law evolving to make sure schemes like this are shut down, so too have the schemes themselves involved in an attempt to make themselves legal. Most schemes like this operating today will have products for their members to sell, but often these products are just digital programs and ebooks that are useless or sold at grossly inflated prices, making any substantial income stream resulting from sales of these products unlikely.

It is an ongoing struggle between the scam operators and fair trading organisations that has not finished yet, and will likely continue throughout 2010.

The Power of the Unproven Product

Scams that sell (or rather “flog”) sell dodgy products has been a significant problem for many years, and despite recent FTC guidelines targeting specifically testimonials and endorsements of these products, these scams are still prolific.
Common examples of unproven products being sold include steroids, teeth whitening products, dieting supplements like Acai diet pills or powders, sexual enhancement products, penis enlargement products, "get ripped" supplements and other self improvement type products.
Often with these unproven products comes the added bonus of being signed up for worthless yet expensive monthly charges often hidden in the terms and conditions of the products website.
Be very careful when signing up for any self improvement product on the Internet.

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