Identity Theft

Beware of Scams in the Wake of Robin Williams’ Death

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Even for a celebrity death, the worldwide response to Robin Williams’ passing has been remarkable. Within minutes on Monday, news of the comedian’s death was dominating trending topics on Twitter and filling up Facebook news feeds. Unfortunately, that makes it a tremendous opportunity for scam artists and computer virus writers, who never fail to take advantage of major news events for nefarious purposes.

After tragedies such as the earthquake in Haiti, fake charities emerge almost instantly. That’s unlikely to happen here. Instead, celebrity deaths generally send people, understandably, searching for answers. Those can come in the form of last words, last pictures or an alleged suicide note. Williams did in fact send out a Tweet and Instagram message recently, a birthday wish to his daughter.

However, there are already generic warnings about some of the more sensational ways these scammers will try to get you to click.

“It’s in this environment that hackers and identity thieves do their best work,” says Adam Levin, founder and chairman of Credit.com and IDT911. “Watch out for banners and headlines and links each screaming out something more sensational than the last. ‘See His Last Words,’ ‘See His Last Television Series,’ ‘See a Collection of His Television and Film Work,’ ‘Intimate Details of How He Died.’ Each of these headlines will be a magnet for his fans, or those who are simply curious.”

If you want to read more about these things, stick with name-brand websites. At a minimum, you want to avoid falling for a fake rumor and spreading false news to your friends. But beware that notes promising enticing photos or messages could be booby-trapped with computer code that will infect your machine with a virus that can use your computer to get access to your email, your financial accounts and your identity.

To avoid this, Levin says that if you receive a communication from a friend containing a link, it’s better to type the name of the news source (again, make sure it’s name-brand) in your browser to read the story rather than clicking directly on the link. If you think you have already stumbled into a scam, you may want to keep an eye on your financial accounts, credit reports and credit scores.

It’s easy, in the face of tragedy, to make a simple mistake and click too hastily on a link, image or video. Now is a good time to remember not to let down your guard.

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Image: Eva Rinaldi

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