Scammers target most popular celebrity names, hijack Twitter accounts: Internet Scambusters #538
Just like the music charts, celebrity names pop in and out of favor. Last year's star is this year's "has been."
Scammers know this, which is why they track celebrities' popularity and use the top ones as lures for malware scams and identity theft.
We share some of those names in this week's issue, along with a report on the increasing incidence of hijacking of celebrity Twitter accounts.
Let's get started...
The Celebrity Names Most Likely to Trick You
Celebrity names are a common target for scams.
As we've reported before, they're used for a whole host of tricks, from people actually posing as celebrities to bogus endorsements of products and events.
We previously listed the 10 most common celebrity scams in a special report, 10 Celebrity Scam Tricks That Lurk Behind the Names of the Rich and Famous.
As we mentioned there, one of the sneakiest tricks is to use the name of a well-known figure in emails or messages on social networks like Facebook and Twitter to lure victims into clicking an attachment or a link that downloads malware onto their PCs.
But they're also used to rig search results on the likes of Google, Yahoo and Bing. When you key in a particular star's name, some of the links that are returned can take you to malicious websites.
However, it turns out that not all celebs are equal when it comes to the popularity of their names as bait for click tricking. And, like celebrity status itself, the names change over time.
PC security company McAfee publishes an annual Top 50 list of the names regarded as "most dangerous" -- in other words, most commonly used by scammers.
"Cybercriminals follow the latest trends, often using the names of popular celebrities to lure people to sites that are actually laden with malicious software that are designed to steal passwords and personal information," says McAfee.
"Anyone looking for the latest videos or files to download could end up with a malware-ridden computer along with the trendy content."
In the past year, using a celebrity name with the words "free downloads" or "nude pictures" in the search term led to the highest return of risky sites.
In its latest Top 10, McAfee reports that the names of women celebrities, especially Latinas, are most likely to be used by the online crooks.
Here's their top 10 names:
1. Emma Watson
2. Jessica Biel
3. Eva Mendes
4. Selena Gomez
5. Halle Berry
6. Megan Fox
8. Cameron Diaz
9. Salma Hayek
10. Sofia Vergara
The list continues, to include names of supermodels like Elle Macpherson and Kate Upton.
In fact, the only man in the top 20 was Jimmy Kimmel. Other earlier incumbents, Brad Pitt and Piers Morgan, dropped out from the previous year's chart.
An interesting discovery the security firm made is that newsworthiness and scandals aren't necessarily a key to the names that make the charts.
So, for instance, the 2012 domestic wrangle between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, which was constantly in the headlines, didn't get them into even the Top 50.
Says Paula Greve, director of web security research at McAfee: "Hot movies and TV shows, awards and industry accolades seem to be more of a factor than headline-grabbing activity.
"Still, searching for any celebrity can bring up risky sites and the public should use caution by not clicking on any page that looks suspicious."
Hijacked Celebrity Names
Another celebrity scam we've been seeing a lot more of in recent months is the hijacking of Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Hackers take control of their accounts and use them to post either malicious or simply outrageous comments.
Often, these are statements that contradict their well-known public stand on certain issues or contain comments that seem to hold them up to ridicule.
For instance, you might have seen reports a few weeks back about the hijacking of TV celebrity and businessman Donald Trump's Twitter account.
The hacker used it to reproduce some rather raunchy lyrics from hip-hopper Lil Wayne.
It may be funny on the face of it (except for Trump, of course) but if the aim is to besmirch someone's -- anyone's -- reputation, celebrity name hijacking is nothing to smile about.
Trump is not the only one.
According to the music culture site The Source, recent Twitter celebrity hacking victims include Alicia Keys and Kanye West among 12 recent singer names hijacks.
The Twitter accounts of high-profile organizations are also potential targets. Burger King, Jeep and even the US Senate are recent examples.
And, of course, there have been numerous instances where Twitter accounts have been set up in the name of a celebrity or group when, in reality, they're phony and have nothing to do with the famous names at all.
Donald Trump has also been a victim of this and was forced to set up the Twitter name "@realDonaldTrump".
Tips on Avoiding Celebrity Names Scams
It's not so difficult to avoid being fooled by the scammers with these tricks.
First, as we always warn, don't click on links or attachments that claim to have sensational news or pictures of celebrities and other famous people -- from pop stars to politicians.
Second, install Internet security software that monitors search results in real-time (that is, as they show up on the search results page).
They flag up unknown or dangerous sites as well as those that are considered safe.
Many of the best-known security suites do this, but basic anti-virus software may not.
Third, don't search using terms like those highlighted by McAfee.
And fourth, as always, be skeptical about anything you see or read online, especially outrageous or uncharacteristic Twitter and Facebook posts supposedly from the celebrities or organizations you follow.
And maybe also take heart that you're not one of those celebrity names. Being plain-old anonymous "you" does have its consolations!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!