he-has-cancer

Share this with all your friends and make Facebook a better place

he-has-cancerHelp a sick child with cancer. Help us raise funds for this poor boy beaten by his stepfather. Learn how to help yourself if you have a heart attack and nobody is around. Isn’t Facebook a fantastic place, you can learn so much and get involved in things that matter through posts that your friends pass around. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We have all seen these posts that circulate on Facebook and other communities.

What do you think about them? Do you pass them on? Does this kind of messages play on your emotions? Do you like the feeling of helping a poor child somewhere in the word by clicking share? Have you ever tried to verify if the sad story is true? Or do you want to hold on to the dream that you are helping, and avoid checking the background even if there is a grain of doubt? Or are you one of the skeptics who dislike chain letters and write an angry reply instead?

Chain letter may be an old-fashion term from the snail-mail era. But that is really what we are talking about here. They are also called hoaxes, which refer to the content rather than the spreading mechanism. Our modern communities on the net provide an ideal environment for them. It has never before been so easy to share information with a large number of friends globally, just by a click. The content might be anything, but there are some easy ways to identify them.

  • They play on your emotions, often empathy or fear.
  • They tell you to share it with all your friends.
  • There’s often a shocking picture of a claimed victim. (The same picture is often reused in many different chain letters.)
  • It may claim that the victim gets money for each share. (This is never true.)
  • There’s no or very little details of the claimed victim to make it harder to debunk the story.
  • There’s no reference to news articles or other reliable sources, or the article is fake if there is one.

Here comes a couple of examples from different categories.

Help save baby with cancer is a really classical example. Who can resist a sick child? And that thing on the little boy’s face. OMG! In reality, this story is just made up and the boy doesn’t exist. Or the baby in the picture certainly exists, but he has appeared in many different chain letters and nobody knows where the picture comes from or if that thing is fake or real. The promise of one dollar per share is also just made up, there is no such commitment in reality.

YOU COULD SAVE A LOVED ONES LIFE BY KNOWING THIS SIMPLE INFORMATION!!! First aid and medical advice is another common chain letter category. I have attended a number of first aid courses at different levels, and this example is legit as far as I can tell. The described STR-rule is also well known and used elsewhere too. But how do you know that? If you can assess that, you don’t need the advice. And if you can’t, you have no clue if the advice is reliable and accurate. This one might be legit, but that can’t be said about all the other messages of this kind. They can in the worst case be directly harmful! (I have selected to not share one of those here.)

Facebook is not a good info source for matters of life and death. If you truly care about your loved ones and want to be able to help, then there is no substitute for professional first aid training. Trash all chain letters of this kind and sign up for a course today!

[Insert celebrity of your choice] found dead at Dominican Republic resort. This is really a sick form of humor. There’s a web-based generator that can generate hoaxes like this. It even creates fake news pages that can be passed around with the chain letter. I’m including the link to the generator here. I trust that you use it only to learn how to spot these hoaxes, not to make one yourself.

If you see some shocking news like this and the source isn’t one of the big news networks that you recognize, then turn to Google and get a second opinion before you hit share. Well, sites can be faked so Google is a good idea even if you recognize the news source.

But these chain letters are mostly harmless, you might think. Is it really that bad to pass one on? Well, they don’t harm the reader directly. Messages that trick you into downloading a file or opening a site that can contain malware is a different cup of tea. Phishing scams that trick you into entering secret data at a faked site are also truly harmful. Chain letters and hoaxes are not harmful in this way.

But that’s not the full story. There are still several reasons to avoid them:

  • Your own reputation. You may feel good when “helping a sick child”, but do your friends think the same way? Some of them may think you are gullible and easily fooled.
  • You create unnecessary noise on Facebook, or whatever community you are on. It may already be hard enough to spot the relevant posts from 500+ friends and a load of groups. Your friends do not need more junk to cover the valuable posts.
  • Things seem to replicate, especially problems. If you have a habit of sharing chain letters and hoaxes, you contribute to the culture among your friends. You signal that it is OK to share hoaxes and your habit will spread to some of them.
  • If you forward a message with some advice about first aid, a friend uses it and it tunes out to be bad advice. How would you feel? If you share info like this, you also carry responsibility for it.
  • Passing on jokes about someone killed in an accident is really sick humor, even if you might be in shock and believe it when you press share. Double-check before sharing and spare your friends that unnecessary shock.
  • If your account is compromised and misused to spread truly harmful content, it will blend in better in a stream of chain letters. Your friends are less likely to notice any difference and more likely to click on the malicious link from “you”.  Such post will however stick out if your normal posts are strictly no-nonsense.
  • A historical note. Old-school computer folks dislike chain letters because they were seen as a bad thing in the early days of e-mail. This was based on the limited capacity of the computers and telecommunications at that time. Technical capacity is not a problem anymore, today’s bottleneck is our capacity to process all the messages we get. But as said above, even if the technical capacity is there, it is still a bad idea to circulate chain letters.

And by the way. Why should you support this particular child? Just because you got a picture of him? There are probably thousands of real children with the same disease. You feel emotionally involved, that’s good. Let’s use your emotions for something more productive than just passing hoaxes around. Look up a local charity organization that work with children and make a donation while watching the picture. That really matters!

So, to summarize. Don’t feel bad if you have shared chain letters like this. As said, they do no direct harm. But I hope that as many as possible become aware of the downsides and start ignoring them. Our Facebook experience would be tidier.

So now you know how to spot a chain letter. Just click the share button and make sure all your friends on Facebook also know. Hey, wait… :)

Safe surfing,
Micke

Image from About.com Urban legends

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MB

In what color would you like your new Mercedes?

A new Mercedes. Nice. Or maybe an Audi R8? That would be cool. But hold it! Don’t sell your old car yet! Liking and sharing that giveaway campaign on Facebook will NOT give you a new car. Those prizes doesn’t even exist. They are just hoaxes. Internet and Facebook is full of crap, junk, rubbish, nonsense and gibberish. Nobody knows how many chain letters there are spreading some kind of unbelievable story. False celebrity news, bogus first-aid advice, phony charity campaigns and this kind of giveaways. We tend to think about these chain letters as hoaxes, pretty harmless jokes that doesn’t hurt us. But that’s not the full story. A hoax can be harmful, like the outright dangerous first aid advice that some people keep spreading. But a car giveaway is probably a harmless and safe prank, even if it’s false? No, not really. These chain letters are actually not traditional hoaxes, they are like-farming scams. There’s no free lunch, you don’t pay for Facebook with money but with your private data. The like-farming scams work in the same currency. You will not lose any money even if you like the page and share it. Instead you will participate in building a page with a lot of supporters, which is valuable and can be sold later. Needless to say, you will not get any of that money. Here’s how it works. Any business has a problem when starting on Facebook. An empty page without likes isn’t trustworthy. So the scammers set up a page containing anything that can go viral. A promise to get a luxury car works well. They just have to tell everyone to like the page and to share it as much as possible, to keep the chain reaction going and get even more likes. The scammers wait until there’s enough likes before they clean out the content, rename it and start looking for a buyer. The price is in “$ per k”, meaning dollars per 1000 likes. A page with 100 000 likes could sell for over $1000. So sharing the page can make quite a lot of money for the scammers if you have a lot of gullible friends, who in turn have a lot of gullible friends, and so on … The downside for you is that the likes stick even if the page is redesigned for some totally different purpose. Your face will be an evangelist for the page’s new owners and show up next to their brand. And you have no idea about what you will be promoting. I have friends who are anti-fur activists. You can probably imagine what one of them would feel when discovering that she likes a fur-coat designer! And finally some concrete advice. Review your list of old likes regularly. Remove everything except those things you truly like and want to support. When you encounter a giveaway post like this, check the involved brand’s main page in Facebook by searching for the brand name. You will in most cases notice that the giveaway is a totally different page that just is named similarly. That’s a strong scam indicator. Use common sense. From the above you get an idea about what likes in Facebook are worth. Does it make sense to give away luxury cars for this? Don’t participate in scams like this. It might feel tempting, but remember that your chance to win is exactly zero. Spread knowledge every time you see a scam of this kind. Comment with a link to this post or the appropriate description on Hoax-Slayer or Snopes.   Those sites are by the way fun and educating reading. I recommend spending some time there getting familiar with other types of hoaxes too. Read at least these two articles: Facebook car giveaway on Snopes and Facebook like-farming scams on Hoax-Slayer .   Safe surfing, Micke  

Dec 16, 2014
BY 
crime scene

Help! I lost my wallet, phone and everything! I need 1000 €!

“Sorry for the inconvenience, I'm in Limassol, Cyprus. I am here for a week and I just lost my bag containing all my important items, phone and money at the bus station. I need some help from you. Thanks” Many of you have seen these messages and some of you already know what the name of the game is. Yes, it’s another type of Internet scam, an imposter scam variant. I got this message last week from a photo club acquaintance. Or to be precise, the message was in bad Swedish from Google translate. Here’s what happened. First I got the mail. Needless to say, I never suspected that he was in trouble in Limassol. Instead I called him to check if he was aware of the scam. He was, I wasn’t the first to react. Several others had contacted him before me and some were posting warnings to his friends on Facebook. These scams start by someone breaking in to the victim’s web mail, which was Gmail in this case. This can happen because of a bad password, a phishing attack, malware in the computer or a breach in some other system. Then the scammer checks the settings and correspondence to find out what language the victim is using. The next step is to send a message like the above to all the victim’s contacts. The victim had reacted correctly and changed the Gmail password ASAP. But I wanted to verify and replied to the scam mail anyway, asking what I can do to help. One hour later I got this: “Thanks, I need to borrow about 1000 euros, will pay you back as soon as I get home. Western Union Money Transfer is the fastest option to wire funds to me. All you need to do is find the nearest Western Union shop and the money will be sent in minutes. See details needed WU transfer below. Name: (Redacted) Address: Limassol, Cyprus you must email me the reference number provided on the payment slip as soon as you make the transfer so I can receive money here. Thank you,” Now it should be obvious for everyone how this kind of scam works. Once the scammers get the reference number they just go to Western Union to cash in. Most recipients will not fall for this, but the scammers will get a nice profit if even one or two contacts send money. But wait. To pull this off, the scammers need to retain control over the mail account. They need to send the second mail and receive the reference number. How can this work if the victim had changed his password? This works by utilizing human’s inability to notice tiny details. The scammers will register a new mail account with an address that is almost identical to the victim’s. The first mail comes from the victim’s account, but directs replies to the new account. So the conversation can continue with the new account that people believe belongs to the victim. The new address may have a misspelled name or use a different separator between the first and last names. Or be in a different domain that is almost the same as the real one. The two addresses are totally different for computers, but a human need to pay close attention to notice the difference. How many of you would notice if a mail address changes from say Bill.Gates@gmail.com to BiII_Gates@mail.com? (How many differences do you notice, right answer at the end?) To be honest, I was sloppy too in this case and didn’t at first see the tiny difference. In theory it is also possible that webmail servers may leave active sessions open and let the scammers keep using the hacked account for a while after the password has been changed. I just tested this on Gmail. They close old sessions automatically pretty quickly, but it is anyway a good idea to use the security settings and manually terminate any connection the scammers may have open. I exchanged a couple of mails with this person the day after. He told that the scammers had changed the webmail user interface to Arabic, which probably is a hint about where they are from. I was just about to press send when I remembered to check the mail address. Bummer, the scammer’s address was still there so my reply would not have reached him unless I had typed the address manually. The account’s reply-to was still set to the scammer’s fake account. OK, let’s collect a checklist that helps identifying these scams. If someone asks for urgent help by mail, assume it’s a scam. These scams are a far more common than real requests for help. We are of course all ready to help friends, but are YOU really the one that the victim would contact in this situation? Are you close enough? How likely is it that you are close enough, but still had no clue he was travelling in Cyprus? Creating urgency is a very basic tool for scammers. Something must be done NOW so that people haven't got time to think or talk to others. The scammers may or may not be able to write correct English, but other languages are most likely hilarious Google-translations. Bad grammar is a strong warning sign. Requesting money using Western Union is another red flag. Wire transfer of money provides pretty much zero security for the sender, and scammers like that. Many scammers in this category try to fake an embarrassing situation and ask the recipient to not tell anyone else, to reduce the risk that someone else sees through it. These messages often state that the phone is lost to prevent the recipient from calling to check. But that is exactly what you should do anyway. Next checklist, how to deal with a situation where your account has been hijacked and used for scams. Act promptly. Change the mail account’s passwords. Check the webmail settings and especially the reply-to address. Correct any changed settings. Check for a function in the web mail that terminates open sessions from other devices. Gmail has a “Secure your account” -wizard under the account’s security settings. It’s a good idea to go through it. Inform your friends. A fast Facebook update may reach them before they see the scammer’s mail and prevent someone from falling for it. It also helps raising awareness. And finally, how to not be a victim in the first place. This is really about account security basics. Make sure you use a decent password. It’s easier to maintain good password habits with a password manager. Activate two-factor authentication on your important accounts. I think anyone’s main mail account is important enough for it. Learn to recognize phishing scams as they are a very common way to break into accounts. Maintain proper malware protection on all your devices. Spyware is a common way to steal account passwords. The last checklist is primarily about protecting your account. But that’s not the full picture. Imagine one of your friends falls for the scam and loses 1000 € when your account is hacked. It is kind of nice that someone cares that much about you, but losing money for it is not nice. Yes, the criminal scammer is naturally the primarily responsible. And yes, people who fall for the scam can to some extent blame themselves. But the one with the hacked account carries a piece of responsibility too. He or she could have avoided the whole incident with the tools described above. Caring about your account security is caring about your friends too! And last but not least. Knowledge is as usual the strongest weapon against scams. They work only as long as there are people who don’t recognize the scam pattern. Help fighting scam by spreading the word!   Safe surfing, Micke   PS. The two mail addresses above have 3 significant differences. 1. The name separator has changed from a dot to an underscore. 2. The domain name is mail.com instead of gmail.com. 3. The two lower case Ls in Bill has been replaced with capital I. Each of these changes is enough to make it a totally separate mail address.   Image by Yumi Kimura

Dec 8, 2014
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