Fake News, Videos and More Launch Year of 2020 Election Scams

7 actions you can take to avoid the new election scammers: Internet Scambusters #871

There’s still a year to go, but the Presidential race has already started — and so have the election scammers.

They’re using fake news to fool voters and fake websites to steal money.

In this week’s issue, we’ll flag up the main scams to be on the lookout for and tell you how to avoid being tricked.

Let’s get started…

Fake News, Videos and More Launch Year of 2020 Election Scams

Although we won’t be voting for about a year for our President and other elected representatives, election scams are already rife. And we can expect them to get worse. The closer we get to November 3, 2020, the more we’re likely to be targeted by online scammers.

Last year, we warned about “deep fakes” – videos that have been digitally altered to make a person appear to be saying or doing something they didn’t say or do.

Many times, these are just for fun but, as we pointed out in that issue (Deep Fake Videos Threaten Turmoil for all Users) they can also be created for malicious purposes – targeting politicians among others.

Since then, the technology for making these fakes has advanced significantly, making them almost impossible to detect. Add to that, the possibility of interference with the election process by overseas powers and you can see how much of a threat deep fakes will represent in the 2020 vote.

More to Come

But that’s only one strand of the election scams we can expect to see, trying to influence votes, steal your money, infect your computer with malware, or simply to create mischief.

Fake news stories will be high on the scammers’ list. These will include items posted on sites that intentionally publish phony stories. Some call themselves “satirical websites” but it’s easy to get taken in when you see one of their articles cross-posted on social media.

Others are downright malicious, manufacturing all manner of troubling, untrue articles.

And then, there are individuals with a political axe to grind who simply post untrue articles on social media sites, notably Facebook and Twitter.

Likewise, phony fund-raisers will be particularly active in the coming months. Earlier this year, a California man was charged with defrauding donors to the tune of more than $250,000 by setting up 15 sites in the name of various well-known politicians.

Political parties are allowed to use robocalls to landlines (but not cellphones without consent), even if you’re listed on the Do Not Call registry. So, you can expect to be bombarded with soliciting calls including robocalls.

Still Active

Again, we covered some of the risks in an election scam report back in 2012 (Election Scam Crooks Out in Force) and many of the tricks we mentioned then are still active. For example:

  • Voter registration or re-registration scams, where victims receive emails telling them they need to register or re-register via clickable links that download malware.
  • Fake voter surveys that offer rewards, which, in turn, are scams. Victims end up paying to receive their supposed reward or handing over confidential information.
  • Vote by phone scams. You can’t vote by phone, and anyone who says you can is trying to stop you going to a polling station or to get your money.

Actions You Can Take

We are all sitting targets for the election scammers. Here are seven of the actions you can take to avoid falling victim to their tricks:

1. Get to know the names of fake news websites. You’ll find a fairly full list of fake news websites on Wikipedia.

2. Never take action or allow yourself to be influenced by a single article, especially those that make outrageous claims. Follow your instinct up to a point, but it’s best to check other news sources and websites specializing in fact checking.

There are many good fact-checking sites. Where politics and elections are concerned, two of the best ones are factcheck.org and politifact.com.

3. Don’t make donations (or any sort, not just to political parties) in response to an unsolicited call or email. Instead, visit the site of the organization you want to support and send your contribution directly to them. And don’t be taken in by caller ID that seems to suggest the call is coming from a legit source.

4. Be wary about websites claiming to belong to political parties. Check with officials, party offices and, again, make your donations directly (for example by check) if you can.

5. Skip the surveys that promise rewards that are too good to be true. And never give personal information or wire money to people you don’t know.

6. If you’re told you need to register or reregister to vote, check with your state or local election office.

7. And remember, you can’t vote by phone, text or via a website. And you can’t necessarily believe your eyes or ears, no matter how convincing the item.

When it comes to elections, we all want our votes to count. Make sure yours does by avoiding the election scams we’ve outlined here. And watch out for further alerts from the Scambusters team in the coming months.

Alert of the Week

If you use the social media site LinkedIn, watch out for bogus invitations to join one of the site’s professional networking groups.

The invitations, believed to originate in Iran, arrive by email. They appear to come from a university and include an Excel file attachment loaded with malware.

Hover your mouse over the name of the supposed sender to check the real hidden email address. Also look out for poor grammar, another feature of these scam emails.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.