WASHINGTON -- In addition to giving Purell instant hand sanitizer a ton of free advertising, dooming all the pigs in Egypt, cleaning out surgical supply stores and mistaking drunken airline passengers for possible patients, a side effect of the swine flu scare is a potential new batch of Internet scams.
The swine flu is a gift to Internet crooks everywhere. Consumers should watch out for e-mails and websites touting protection from the illness and sensational stories about it, according to the Better Business Bureau.
"Scammers read newspapers, watch TV and surf the Internet, and they know that by using a hook from the day's top headlines, that they'll be able to lure and bilk unsuspecting consumers," said BBB President Edward Johnson.
The scammers get to retire their e-mails about diamonds and the fortunes of deposed African royalty for a while and come up with some creative new frauds, preying on the nation's fears.
McAfee Avert Labs, an online security company, told the BBB that e-mails with subjects like "Madonna caught swine flu!" and "Swine flu in Hollywood!" started flooding inboxes as soon as swine flu news broke last week. For the time being, the e-mails link to websites like online pharmacies, but that could change and evolve into phishing schemes or attempts to compromise computers, the BBB warned.
Another online security company told the BBB that more than 250 websites with the term "swine flu" were registered within a few days of the news breaking. For example, www.noswineflu.com is selling a swine flu survival guide that recommends supplements and herbs for $19.95.
The BBB recommends the following tips for avoiding scams like they're the swine flu:
- Avoid opening e-mail from an unknown source and do not click on any links in the body of the e-mail or open any attachments. Instead, delete the e-mail or report it to the Federal Trade Commission by forwarding the e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Don’t believe online offers for vaccinations against swine flu because a vaccine does not exist. For more information on swine flu and updates on progress in fighting the outbreak, go to www.cdc.gov/swineflu .
- Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software is up to date and all operating system security patches have been installed. If your computer becomes infected as the result of a spam e-mail about swine flu, you can report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.