Internet messages that falsely claim that a celebrity has died have been around for many a long year. In earlier times, these messages tended to be just silly poor-taste hoaxes that posed no real security threat to recipients. But, alas, the modern incarnations of these fake death messages tend to be considerably more sinister.
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Nowadays, criminals are using fake celebrity death reports to trick you into visiting malicious websites. Here’s how these scams operate:
“Breaking News” Post Claims a Celebrity Has Died
A post on one of your social media feeds claims that a celebrity has unexpectedly died. The post, which will often be labelled as “breaking news”, may include the logo of a mainstream news outlet such as CNN or NBC. The link displayed on the post may also appear to belong to the same news outlet. The posts are designed to entice you to click on them in the belief that you will get more information about the targeted celebrity’s untimely demise.
Post Links to Fake News Report About the Death
If you do click on the post, you will be taken to a bogus website that looks like a news report. Page elements such as logos, colour schemes, and formatting may mirror those of real news channels and are designed to further the illusion that the site belongs to a legitimate news outlet. The site will feature an – entirely made up – story describing the sad circumstances surrounding the celebrity’s death. The site will likely include what appears to be a news video about the celebrity.
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Site Redirects You to Other Malicious Websites
At this point, you may be automatically redirected to another malicious website. Or, instead, you may be tricked into clicking a link that takes you to the site.
Often, the website that opens will falsely claim via a popup window that your computer is infected with a dangerous virus and you must immediately call a “tech support” number to get help with the virus infection. You may find it difficult or impossible to close the popup window and exit the browser in the normal way. The message may claim that your computer has been blocked or locked and won’t be released until you call the specified number. However, the virus and blocking claims are lies. It is all just a ruse designed to steal your credit card details or fool you into allowing criminals to take control of your computer from afar.
In other cases, you may be taken to dodgy websites that try to entice you to sign up for bogus “wealth programs” that will supposedly make you rapidly rich with little effort or outlay.
Or, you may be taken to survey scam websites that try to trick you into giving your personal information to unscrupulous Internet marketing companies.
In fact, these fake news sites are overflowing with traps for the unwary. Attempting to play the “news” video will likely take you to a website that insists you must update your video player before the footage can be viewed. However, clicking the “update” button will install malware that can hijack your browser so that it redirects you to porn websites or further malware.
Or, a popup window may ask you to share or like the site on Facebook. But, clicking can trick you into installing a rogue Facebook app that may spam all of your friends with further scam messages.
Other links or buttons displayed on the bogus news page may lead to all kinds of noxious spam, scam, and malware sites.
Always Verify Celebrity Death Claims Before Clicking
Such celebrity death scams are increasingly common. If a message that claims that a celebrity or famous person has died, it is wise to check the claim before clicking on or sharing the message. Of course, if a high-profile celebrity does die, his or her demise is sure to be extensively covered by mainstream news outlets around the world.
So, searching via a news aggregator such as Google News should quickly reveal if the celebrity really has died as claimed in the message. And the search will allow you to directly access further information about the death on reputable news sites.
Last updated: December 9, 2016
First published: December 9, 2016
By Brett M. Christensen