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5 sketchy links you should never click

Online identity thieves have become far more creative, sophisticated and inscrutable. With that in mind, here are 5 online traps you should never, ever click.

By MSN Money producer Oct 3, 2013 2:12PM

This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site


Here's a scary scenario. You're innocently surfing the Web, maybe on an unfamiliar site, not paying close attention. Suddenly your computer screen fills with illegal pornographic images of minors. You try to navigate away, but a warning screen branded by the National Security Administration's Internet Surveillance Program pops up with the message: "Your computer has been locked due to suspicion of illegal content downloading and distribution."  


Hacker © Getty ImagesYou are then offered a sort of Hobson's choice: Pay a fine immediately, or face prosecution for downloading child pornography.  


The folks behind that scam were actually based in Russia, SC Magazine reported, not NSA headquarters. The number of people entrapped by this type of scam has been increasing exponentially. In a recent report from McAfee, an Internet security company, there were fewer than 25,000 samples of ransomware catalogued per quarter in the first half of 2011. In the second quarter of 2013 alone, the number of new samples multiplied to more than 320,000, (which was double the number in the first quarter of this year). 


"During the past two quarters we have catalogued more ransomware than in all previous periods combined," MacAfee found. "This trend is also reflected by warnings from law enforcement and federal agencies around the globe."


 If you think the most common cyber scam still involves deposed Nigerian royalty eliciting your help to extract fortunes from African banks, your time machine has stalled. Cyberninjas have become far more creative, sophisticated and inscrutable. With that in mind, here are five links you should never, ever click:


No. 1. Mobile apps that are unfamiliar to you 


It's easy to think of spam and phishing as email-based scams. But with the rise of mobile devices, scammers have added mobile apps to their repertoire. Malware attacks on Android phones grew by 35% to nearly 18,000 new samples in the second quarter of 2013, according to McAfee.  


It appears the onslaught will only grow worse. While the number of attempted mobile device hacks increased by just over a third, the total number of new malware applications discovered by McAfee researchers in the second quarter was double the number found in the first. This trend suggests that cyber scam artists are honing their craft.  


Mobile malware takes many forms. It could purport to come from your bank. It could trick you into paying for a fake dating app. Some scammers even "weaponize" legitimate apps, turning real programs into spying machines that siphon your location, contact and other data away from legal enterprises and funnel it into the black market. 


How to avoid it: Control the impulse. Don't just click on any app no matter how cool it seems at first blush. And just because you see it in the app store doesn't mean it's safe. Do the research to make sure it's the real deal before you download. 

No. 2: Remote access 


In the latest and most popular iteration of this scam, con men pose as employees of Microsoft. They send emails, instant messages or texts with warnings that your computer has contracted a virus, and provide a link that you can click so a "Microsoft employee" can fix the problem. The thieves claim to work for different divisions of Microsoft such as Windows Helpdesk and the Microsoft Research and Development Team. (Microsoft publishes MSN Money.)

Once the scammers gain access, they "can install malicious software, steal personal information, take control of the computer remotely or direct consumers to fraudulent websites where they are asked to enter their credit card information," according to the Better Business Bureau


How to avoid it: Never trust an unsolicited contact. Only provide personal information or agree to a remote access session when you initiate communication. If, for some reason, you are contacted by anyone representing an institution with which you have a relationship, always confirm the authenticity and contact information of the organization before you respond and then only to the appropriate department.  


No. 3: Porn  


While you mindlessly surf the Internet, you may accidentally click on sketchy ads or spam. Or perhaps you get an email with a tantalizing picture or link, which ultimately sends you to a site rife with pornographic images, oftentimes illegal. Such despicable lures are just one part of the larger epidemic of ransomware. 


How to avoid it: Pay attention. Absentminded clicking can land you in a world of pain. Also, deal with businesses that are security minded. These businesses have their websites tested at least annually for vulnerabilities, then fix the security gaps before you get trapped in them. Intentionally clicking on illegal sites, however, will (and should) entitle you to a one-way ticket to a federal sleep-away camp for a not inconsequential period of time. 


No. 4: Authority scams 


Email, texts or phone calls alerting us to issues with our checking accounts, tax returns and credit cards tend to elicit knee-jerk instant responses (and are designed to do so). A natural tendency is to immediately provide whatever personal information is required to identify ourselves and make the problem go away. 


This is not lost on scammers, which is what makes "authority scams" so appealing to those on the dark side. From May 2012 through April 2013, 102,100 Internet users globally received phishing attacks every day, twice the number of recipients the previous two years, according to a report by Kapersky Lab (.pdf file), an Internet security company. Of those attempts, 20 percent involved scammers impersonating banks. Of all fake and deceptive websites, 50 percent of those discovered by Kapersky attempted to impersonate banks, credit card companies and other financial services such as PayPal. 


How to avoid it: Before clicking any links, entering any username or password information or flinging any kind of precious personal information into the ether, stop, take a breath and think. No reputable financial institution, or government entity, would ever ask you to provide such data via email; nor would they cold-call potential victims of fraud and request sensitive personal data. If you receive an email alerting you to fraud and requesting that you verify by email your account username and password, it is – by definition – a scam.


No. 5: Drug spam


For nearly as long as there's been email, there's been spam. Creative criminals have used lures of all stripes to entice people into clicking on links in their emails. Email has become the "carrier" for malware. The email subject may be about a job, travel, shopping discounts, sex, news, or, the most popular, drugs.


McAfee's research team has found that about 20 percent of all spam emails sent to recipients in the U.S. referenced drugs in the subject line. It's no wonder with the cost of healthcare in the U.S. that this is a particularly effective subject line. Delivery service notification, in which fraudsters claiming to be from UPS or FedEx say they could not deliver a package, came in a distant second.


How to avoid it: Don't take the bait. Why would you buy drugs from anyone who contacts you blindly over the Internet? Your health, your bank account or both will suffer. And, if you're expecting a package, contact the shipper directly. 


These scams will continue as long as people will fall for them. It's all about fear, carelessness, curiosity or distraction — any of which can lead to financial issues, health implications or being labeled a criminal — even a sexual predator. The convenience and access of the Internet creates vulnerabilities, opportunities and also requires personal responsibility. Before you click, weigh each against the other and do the smart thing. 


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Oct 3, 2013 4:12PM
I'm thinking the link that brought me here should be on the list.
Oct 3, 2013 5:17PM

They forgot the one...get your PC scanned for free.....which finds hundreds of viruses, Trojans, and malware which will choose that moment to not let you go anywhere but to the scan (M) website to buy their product. I've cleaned loads of those off relatives and friends PCs and they get more inventive all the time in how they present themselves as well as what it takes to get them off and repair any damage.


Scammers, spammers and hackers should be taken downtown, tied up, and whipped. 
Oct 3, 2013 5:16PM
No porn?? What other use has the internet then?
Oct 3, 2013 5:29PM
At least we know who to blame. It's all Al Gore's fault.
Oct 3, 2013 7:36PM
avoid free "my clean pc" will never get that off your'll pop up in
Oct 3, 2013 6:49PM
I have a program that allows me to watch porn without cookies going or coming, it is called Private Scan. But so I know it works I have my Norton run a quick cleaner scan and a report shows if there are any intrusions. What's wrong with a little porn when one is 80+ and lost his mate many years ago. It keeps the mind sharp and the body wishing it were 50 years younger.
Oct 3, 2013 5:53PM
Biggest scam is paying for programs that are supposed to protect you like McAffe &Symantec. All they do is slow your machine down to a crawl.
Oct 3, 2013 6:47PM
Oct 3, 2013 5:09PM

Anybody that doesn't know where to find zero cost, virus free porn nowadays, has no business seeking it. 

Oct 3, 2013 8:02PM
I've gotten two phone calls in the past like this. One guy called me on my land line saying he was from "Windows" not Microsoft and the he saw that I was online and had noticed my computer had a problem. The first thing I asked him was how did he get my contact info, he said that when I first got my computer that, that was how that came about he says after this to come to a website with him so that he could see what the problem was and fix it. I said I don't think so and hung up. Another time very recently a guy called me on my cell phone with a very thick Indian accent saying his name was "David" and that he was calling me from IT saying there was a problem with my computer that he wanted to fix. Funny thing was that I had recently just gotten off from work and hadn't been on my computer all day. Again I said no way and hung up. Amazing what people will try to do.
Oct 3, 2013 8:30PM
The  internet providers should be fined heavily for putting a flawed product out there. They should pay for virus protection, not us.
Oct 3, 2013 6:38PM
Only time I have problems is when my kids use the computer. "free games" click click
Oct 3, 2013 5:22PM
Gotta watch out for those cyberninjas. 
Oct 3, 2013 7:41PM
I've gotten a couple recently, alledgedly from UPS about a  package delivery coming my way. Not buyin it.
Oct 3, 2013 7:13PM

I've gotten hundreds of scam eMail in the 7 years I've been on the net. Porn offers, pharmacy ads, Nigerian scum, inheritance notices, lottery winnings notices, Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge vacation ads, 3 (three) extortion attempts, and outside eMail, a good number of alleged scannings for viruses In 1 or 2 attempts, my system became infected, and I once paid $200 to the store to snuff the virus. When it came back the next night (!) I hit upon using SYSTEM RESTORE to snuff it. I installed McAfee to make sure it never came back. Norton was not cutting the mustard.


I also now stand ready to pull the power jack (battery out) if a scanner attack hits again. It is not there when I restart.


I'm paranoid in my old age, and thanks to an AARP warning, I was vaccinated against eMail scams and viruses from day one. Winning contests i never entered -or even heard of !

Oct 3, 2013 6:47PM

Link # 6.


Anything written by MSNBC...

Oct 4, 2013 5:18AM

Current IT Pro, I see these incidents all the time on the corporate and retail level.

Remember the saying; Curiosity killed the cat; well that and unconscious behavior has killed many Computers! Most of the applications you have, are all you will need. If something seems to good to be true, it is usually a virus, malware or a Trojan horse.

Your anti-virus is only as good as your common sense. If you let the virus in; the anti-virus will think it is okay; since you gave the virus, permission. 

Here are some suggestions; when you set up your computer; set up an Admin account and a restricted account. Use the restricted account for web surfing; if you happen to encounter a virus; it will not have the permission to download. Lock the Admin account and make the folders private. This will save you a lot of money. If not you will be contacting me to assist you in; 1) Formatting the HD and reinstalling the OS and Apps. 2) Buying a New HDD and 1). or 3) Buying a new computer.


Please stay safe and have a great weekend.

Oct 4, 2013 11:26AM
This porn scam is just another way to use a virus (along with the rest of these crooked ploys) as a tool to get money from you. Law enforcement does not lockup your computer with a virus and ask for money. They serve a search warrant and take it. When any of this **** happens just get the virus removed. I don't keep a thing on my computer so there's nothing to retrieve. These old soviet block a..holes refuse to use their intelligence legally.
Oct 3, 2013 8:29PM
Common sense is the best defense against scamsters, and always will be. In the meantime, keep your Norton updated.
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