What they’re up to – Fall 2019, part II

What they’re up to – Fall 2019, part II

From the hitman scam to fake prescription meds, this article brings you up to date on the latest cybercrime and online scams.

We end National Cybersecurity Awareness Month bringing you the latest in scams and online threats, to help you stay a little bit safer when surfing the digital waves.


The hitman scam

We bring this one up because of its cruel uniqueness. The victim starts receiving emails, text or WhatsApp messages and other sorts of online contacts from someone claiming to be a hitman who has been paid to kill him/her.

This ‘hitman’ claims to have second thoughts or simply offers to not kill the person in exchange for a payment that will range from $1,000 to $100,000.

A typical text message will read “Someone paid me to kill you. If you want me to spare you, I’ll give you two days to pay $5000. If you inform the police or anybody, you will die, I’m watching you.”

It’s scary to receive a message like this. However, keep in mind that it’s a bot sending these and that it is 100% complete scam. Just ignore it.

Fake ransomware scams

Speaking of Bitcoin, there’s an email circulating that claims to have taken over your computer, your files and your hardware, saying that ‘they’ have pictures of you watching porn on your computer. They ask for anywhere from ₿500 to ₿1,000 in ransom to release your computer.

It’s another fake.

Facebook impersonation scams

This is a two-tier crime. The first part involves stealing a person’s Facebook account credentials; cybercriminals then use that person’s friends list to share links that promise anything -grants, cheap airfares, pornography-. The real intent behind it is to either install malware or steal people’s login information for identity thieving.

You can protect yourself on Facebook by:

  • Keeping your password safe from others,
  • Refusing random friend requests and reporting them,
  • Using two-factor authentication to log in to Facebook,
  • Not connecting to Facebook on public and free Wi-Fi networks, and
  • Keeping your apps and browser updated, always.
    Bitcoins and a digital wallet displayed on a phone

Bitcoin scams

We cannot advice you for or against investing in bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that gains and loses value in a heartbeat. However, we can urge you to be very careful when looking to invest in the currency. The only way to invest is in Bitcoin is to create a digital wallet, and these wallets are extremely susceptible to theft.

There are many scams and fake websites that look completely legitimate and have stolen millions of dollars of bitcoin over the years because users fall for the look and feel of these sites and allow scammers access to all sorts of sensitive data. One of such sites was so convincing even the creators of Bitcoin fell for it.

If you want to invest in cryptocurrency, what we suggest is that you obtain an extra-limited access digital wallet where you can keep money designated for this purpose: you can maintain it completely separate from your other accounts and their login credentials. That way you will limit your risk of exposure.

Fake anti-aging and beauty products

The world is aging and with it, there’s a rising interest in beauty and anti-aging products. There are many advertisements for fake Botox, anti-oxidants and other “advanced” treatments that one can receive in the mail. The problem with these treatments is that you have no way of confirming that the contents of what you receive are real, and you don’t know if they could be harmful to you when you try them

Beauty products in a clear bag.

The FBI warns on its website about the dangers of purchasing and using these products and treatments online. Especially, they ask consumers to be wary of any products described as “breakthrough” or being a “secret formula”. They suggest doing a whole lot of research online on other sites, and calling the Better Business Bureau to ask if a specific product has received complaints, before making any purchases. Better yet, they recommend seeking professional assistance, as the extra expense of going to a beauty professional or cosmetic center would save you money in the long run. At least consult a doctor before taking any supplements or treatments.

Counterfeit prescription drugs

Another stigma of an aging population is the increased demand for prescription medication. Alongside the demand the internet has seen a rise in the sale of medications that claim to be the equivalent of many more expensive prescriptions. There are two scenarios in which unwary consumers can be scammed this way:

  • For the most part the prescriptions are often placebos that may be harmless, or contain added substances to which the consumer might react negatively.
  • Even worse, many of these sites are only after the consumer’s personal information, with no intent of selling any drugs. They want the consumer’s data to commit insurance fraud, or to steal their credit and debit car numbers.

If you purchase prescription drugs online, there are guidelines from the World Health Organization on detecting counterfeits.

“Irrespective of the analytical method used, the first step in identifying potential counterfeit drugs is the careful visual inspection of the product, and its packaging and labelling. A comparison with the authentic drug product is always preferred. Differences in labelling, packaging and the physical appearance of dosage form, e.g. shape, colour, etc., indicate a potential counterfeit (8,9,24).
Prescription pills coming out of a bottle.
Even in the absence of knowledge of the physical characteristics of the authentic drug, a visual inspection may indicate that there has been tampering, that there is non-uniform colouration of the drug product under investigation, etc. Again such observations signal the possibility of a counterfeit.
Legitimate drug manufacturers should be encouraged to collaborate with national DRAs and with WHO by providing information and materials on the physical attributes of their products; this would be also be to their own benefit.”

This ends our fall edition of What they’re up to. We hope that these warnings will be of use to you and yours. Feel free to share this article (and the previous edition) with anyone you might think might be susceptible to fall for any of these scams.

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