DVD release and website launch spark spate of Harry Potter scams: Internet Scambusters #463
Fantasy fiction sagas like Harry Potter and the Twilight series are making big money -- but not just for their creators and movie theaters.
Scammers are cashing in with a whole stack of tricks, from bogus ebooks and movie tickets to fake lotteries and forged first-edition books.
The launch of the Pottermore website, the imminent release of the latest Harry Potter DVD and the first of the new two-parter Twilight epic, Breaking Dawn, will likely spark a new surge, as we explain in this week's issue.
And now for the main feature...
Scammers Target Harry Potter and Twilight Fans
Crooks are preparing to release their latest Harry Potter scam as the approaching Holiday Season sees the launch of the final DVD of the blockbuster movie series.
They offer pirated copies of downloads of the eagerly awaited disc as a cover for phishing scams or a way of loading malware onto victims' PCs.
The whole saga of the young wizard, in print, online and in video, has been dogged by scams and the continuing immense popularity of the series is likely to ensure they'll continue, even if the adventures of Harry Potter don't.
Eager anticipation of the October launch of the new (and free-to-join) Pottermore online portal, for example, had crooks offering "advance membership" for $100.
And the showing of the final film in the Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, in July this year, sparked a spate of Harry Potter scam tricks that netted crooks a fortune.
In a similar vein to the Harry Potter scam, a new outbreak of con tricks surrounds the imminent release of the latest installment of the teen vampire series, Twilight.
The two-part Breaking Dawn movie (Part 1 this November, Part 2 November 2012) has prompted a number of scams, mainly focusing, as with the Harry Potter scam, on supposed free tickets, advance clips, and a viral game currently being played out on Facebook.
What's particularly nasty about these phishing scams and thefts is that they're mainly aimed at a vulnerable section of the population -- youngsters who often are too trusting of the things they see online.
Although both series have an adult following, most of the con tricks are clearly targeted at the youth market.
- Bogus online sneak previews or complete downloads of the movies, usually accompanied by fake comments from supposedly delighted users.Typically, the page links for these lead to surveys that collect personal details for spammers, or insist users first download a toolbar or special viewer, either of which, in reality, installs spyware, a virus or fake anti-virus software onto computers.They may also ask victims for their cellphone numbers, which are then immediately charged a premium user fee of $25 or $30.
- Phony digital (ebook) versions of either series, again leading to the kind of scams outlined in the point above.Scanned and pirated electronic versions of the actual books have been around for some time. Making them or downloading them is illegal.Genuine ebook versions of the Twilight saga are already available, and Harry Potter is coming soon (or may even be available by the time you're reading this).
- Poisoned search links. With thousands of people doing online searches every day on these famous fictional characters' names, the bad guys simply construct ad-saturated, malware-spiked pages peppered with those names.Or they create subject headings for web pages and emails with some sort of sensational claim about one of the characters, luring curious fans to visit or open attachments that will cast an evil spell on their PCs
- Social network games. Again, these are nothing more than phishing scams, with a twist that tricks players into spreading them.The current one actually relates to the Twilight saga, though a similar one was also around as a Harry Potter scam a few months ago.With the latest scam, Facebook users learn about a bogus game called Twilight: Breaking Dawn.When they try to play, they discover first they have to "like" the game so it gets posted on their Facebook wall, thus spreading it to their friends.Then victims are asked to okay a Facebook app to access their account and to complete a form that asks for personal information.
- The Harry Potter lottery scam. Yes, there's even one of those.For the past couple of years, victims have been receiving an email that purports to be from "the Harry Potter Foundation" (no such thing), telling them they've won a fortune.In a recent variation, targets learn they've supposedly been selected to accompany author JK Rowling and the cast of the latest movie on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa.As we well know, both of these dirty tricks require victims to pay certain "processing" charges up front, or provide credit card details. Then they hear no more.
- The first edition Harry Potter scam. This is one for the adults and mostly crops up at online auction sites like eBay, though it can be used anywhere.Quite simply, these are bogus claims to be selling a first edition of the Potter books, especially the earliest ones, which can sell for thousands of dollars.The books are usually later editions that have been tampered with so they look like firsts.For some quick guidance, check out this posting by an eBay trader: FRAUD Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 1st Edition.Many Twilight and Harry Potter scams also apply to other popular fictional books, movies and computer games.
We imagine most Scambusters readers would not fall for them -- it's the kids we worry about.
If you have youngsters in your extended family, or school connections, please make a point of alerting them to the risks.
There's no doubt that authors JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) have brought massive entertainment to today's reading audiences with their spellbinding tales.
But these sagas can also capture far more than the imagination of readers and viewers. A Twilight or Harry Potter scam can capture their hard-earned money too!
That's all we have for today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!