There seems to be a playbook of standard hacker tactics after a celebrity death or an event of worldwide interest like earthquakes or tsunamis. Hours after the announcement of pop diva Whitney Houston’s death, scammers had already devised schemes to prey on fans seeking information – appearing to recycle those used after the deaths of Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs.
A Facebook message, claiming to link to a video of Whitney Houston's autopsy, takes the user to a page with an embedded YouTube video. When you try to play it, a pop-up message appears instructing the user to update their copy of Adobe's Flash from a bogus site. The video scam has become viral.
“Scammers are out in force after an event like this, so fans looking for information are safest on known sites,” said Jindrich Kubec, head of avast! Virus Labs. “Be wary of sites asking for personal information, or asking you to download or update something.”
When Houston’s death became a trending topic on Twitter, a scam emerged that linked to a supposed tribute site filled with wallpaper and ringtones, eventually leading to a survey site that requires private information to complete and claim a prize. The purpose of these scams is primarily identity theft.
“Social media users need to be especially cautious clicking on links reporting on Whitney Houston’s death. Stick with sites you know, and avoid passing around suspicious links,” said Kubec. “Some sort of email and charity scam is inevitable as well, so be vigilant.”
It is expected that spam campaigns, like the one offering free iPAd giveaways, following Steve Jobs’ death, or fake charity funds designed to steal money from grieving fans will also emerge shortly.