Scammers have jumped on the news of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death to push forward more survey scams on Facebook. Security researchers warned more are probably on the way.
In the latest scam, Facebook users are told that a company-not Apple-is giving away 50 iPads in memory of Steve Jobs, Sophos researchers posted Oct. 6 on the Naked Security blog. The ghoulish scam appears on the user’s Facebook Wall with a picture of the former Apple CEO.
The post is deceptively simple, titled, “R.I.P. Steve Jobs,” and the accompanying URL is a shortened link from Bit.ly with “restinpeace-steve-jobs.” Users clicking on the link are automatically directed to a survey site, which is required before qualifying for the free offer. This particular link appeared about two hours after news of his death broke in the evening of Oct. 5. Since then, the post had tricked more than 25,669 people from 100 countries to click through to the bogus survey site, according to Bit.ly’s analytics page.
“Sickeningly, as with the deaths of other figures in the public eye, there are scammers waiting to take advantage of bad news,” Graham Cluley, senior security consultant at Sophos, wrote Oct. 6 on the Naked Security blog.
Sophos has asked Bit.ly to shut the link down, and the link was flagged as “potentially problematic” around 8 a.m. EDT on Oct. 6. Users who inadvertently wound up on the site must shut down the entire Web browser to get off the page because simply trying to leave the page opens up multiple text boxes entreating the victim to fill out the survey.
The scam was primarily spreading via Facebook, as users clicked on the link from the main Facebook site as well as from the mobile version. However, the survey scam also appears to be spreading through email and instant messaging as users share the link with friends. The victims were predominantly from the United States, accounting for 43 percent of the clicks.
Cluely said more such tricks are likely, as scammers look for other ways to take advantage of the intense public interest in Steve Jobs. “It wouldn’t be a surprise,” if there are scams trying to take advantage of people who want to make a tribute for Jobs to “donate to Steve’s favorite charities,” Cluley said.
A quick check on Bit.ly revealed at least three other shortened links directing users to questionable sites, along with a harmless one which “Rick-Rolled” users with a YouTube video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Survey scams work by conning unsuspecting Facebook users into completing questionnaires in exchange for receiving a product or service in an “exclusive” deal. The survey usually asks for personal details, and in some cases, the scammers take the cell phone numbers and sign victims up for premium-rate text messages for various “services.” The people behind these survey sites earn affiliate revenues from unscrupulous marketing firms for driving people to the site, signing up for services or taking online surveys.
The site uses the visitor IP address to localize the site appropriately. Cluley viewed the scam from Barcelona, Spain, and saw the page in Spanish, and the same link displayed different pages for Australian and U.S. users.
Users should think carefully about the links they click on. “Time and time again scammers and cyber-criminals have proven themselves to have no qualms about exploiting news stories,” Cluley wrote, whether they are of natural disasters, major historical events or people’s deaths.