It’s no secret that highly-anticipated events like the Super Bowl generate buzz around everything from commercials to merchandise, allowing opportunistic businesses to capitalize on the millions of eyes viewing from around the globe. However, what many folks fail to recognize is the opportunity events like the Super Bowl also create for scammers to generate disingenuous websites and emails to trap people into paying for items they will never see. This year is shaping up to be no different as proven by Barracuda Labs, which has already detected spam for replica jerseys on sale for the 2016 Super Bowl teams via sites such as pantherssuperbowlshop-dot-com and broncossuperbowlshop-dot-com.
A new year may have begun, but the big business of spam is still very present. Barracuda Central has recently detected a new spam tactic that uses Donald Trump’s name and image in make-money-quick schemes. Regardless of political or personal views, Donald Trump is a name that most people know. Spammers are very much aware of this, and are using it to their advantage.
Get-rich-quick schemes are not new to the big business of spam, but the tactics to get recipients to read these spam emails are always changing. Specific to these ‘Donald Trump’ messages, spammers are using these angles of enticement:
- A mainstream name in the media (‘Donald Trump’)
- Words or phrases similar from actual news conferences (‘You’re Fired!’)
- An email alias that disguises the spammer as a Trump or a legitimate news source (ex. CNN, see Figure 1)
Spam is big business all year long, and it never goes out of season. Unfortunately, spammers do kick things into high gear during the fall. This is when people are buying gifts, thinking about how to get money to buy gifts, or opening holiday E-Cards that aren't really from friendly people. Spam tends to increase during this time, just because there's more opportunity when people are in the holiday spirit.
Fall is also the time of year when insurance companies allow businesses and individuals to adjust their health and life insurance coverage. This is known as Open Enrollment, and spammers come out in force to try to take advantage of this well-known event.
Barracuda Central, our 24×7 advanced security operations center, has detected an increase in health and life insurance spam over the last few weeks. We have picked up several hundred examples of these emails since October. These particular spam messages use names of real insurance companies, such as AIG, Fidelity Life Insurance, and Medicare. The messages have generic subject lines such as “Open Enrollment is here!” and “Now is the time to change your plan.” See Figure 1 for example.
So what’s the point of this type of spam? By clicking on the fraudulent links included in these types of scam emails, spammers can harvest information from a recipient like their full legal name, social security number, and credit card information, basically anything you share online. Spammers can identify the users who open these messages, which allows them to create additional emails used for “social engineering.” Social engineering is defined by TechTarget as “a non-technical method of intrusion hackers use that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking people into breaking normal security procedures.” Social engineering is one of the biggest threats faced by organizations today, because it takes advantage of human mistakes rather than technical vulnerabilities.
Fortunately there are ways to avoid being victimized by this type of spam message. The most important step you can take is to always double check the sending domain of any email you receive about health insurance. Do not open any insurance-related email that was sent from a domain that ends in “.xyz” or any unfamiliar or strange domain name, like you see in Figure 3. Instead, contact your provider directly and let them know about the email you received and if any action is actually required on your part. By flagging this email to your provider you might just help alert them to block this particular piece of spam and subsequently save an innocent user from being exploited.
Barracuda Labs has covered quite a few topics related to how scammers are profiting from spam related tactics, to read more in our Big Business of Spam series, check out the following posts:
- The Big Business of Spam: What Caitlyn Jenner Uses to Prevent Wrinkles and Stop the Aging Process
- The Big Business of Spam: Stay clear of these “too-hot-to-miss” sale opportunities from your Facebook Friends
- The Big Business of Spam: Adulterers beware, scammers may be targeting you
- The Big Business of Spam: Online Dating Requests Through Email – Not So Fast
Meeting people online has never been easier, unfortunately for some people, falling for that perfect connection may not be the only thing they are falling for these days. Online dating scams are quickly becoming a likely possibility due to the giant audience attracted to online dating sites. It’s no secret that scammers target large audiences, and according to an article published on Match.com, there are currently over 40 million people trying to meet that special someone online. So, how can users avoid falling victim to an online dating scam without dumping the scene all together?
One way is to remain aware that any email you receive regardless of the topic – could be a scam in disguise. For example, through Barracuda Central, the Barracuda Labs team recently flagged and dissected a series of factious emails from scammers attempting to impersonate a missed connection from a dating site. These scams are banking on the potential that the recipient has an online dating account in order to bait them into replying to an offsite message. This particular email scam suggests that the recipient email them directly so they can get to know each other, which is simply a tactic used in order to bypass spam filters. Here is one of the messages we came across:
As you can see, this particular message is written poorly which should always raise a red flag, and if the recipient takes action and replies, the scammer's sob story quickly follows in hopes to earn the trust of the victim. Eventually these communications will lead to a request for the victim to wire money, which will be withdrawn from their bank account immediately and into an offshore account – where a refund is far from likely. Not only will your wallet be empty, your heart may be broken along with it, and you’ll be well on your way to a number one hit on the county music charts.
Not your idea of a good time? Fortunately, it might actually be easier to avoid these types of scams than to fall for one if you know how to stay safe. Based on the messages we’ve seen come through, scams similar to this one seem to be targeting men over 18, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if you don’t fit that demographic. To keep yourself out of harm’s way when it comes to online dating and related email scams, take the following precautions:
- Don’t reply to emails from a “missed connection” or to someone claiming to want to get to know you better through email – they most likely aren’t your soul mate.
- When participating in online dating, keep your initial communications with connections through the dating site. You signed up to meet people – let them help you do that.
- If you’re suspicious of any email, regardless of topic – don’t open it, reply to it, or click on any links associated. Better safe than sorry.
Barracuda Labs has covered quite a few topics related to how scammers are profiting from spam related tactics, to read more in our Big Business of Spam series, check out the following links:
We’ve previously warned about deals that are too good to be true (https://barracudalabs.com/2015/05/the-big-business-of-spam-dr-ozs-brand-new-trick-to-shed-27-pounds-in-just-one-month/) – and with summer in full swing, the Barracuda Labs team has seen more and more false domains like (rb-to.com, raybanglassesofhot.com and summer-raybans.com) popping up in feeds and social media timelines. Our Labs team ran a background check on the domains and many of them appear to be registered in China, including the domain listed above.
While browsing your Facebook or Twitter timelines, you may have come across “sponsored ads” that seem too good to be true. Most can be spotted immediately and swiftly ignored; however, you may have been tagged in a post or received a message on your personal timeline posted by a friend, directing you to a killer sale. See figure 1 for an example.
The example above shows an ad for Ray Ban, a popular sunglass retailer whose classic sunglasses range from $155 to $200, that looks as though it was shared by a regular user or even a friend on Facebook. The ad targets unsuspecting consumers looking to score the name brand sunglasses for up to 80% off.
The idea here, like any scam, is to entice unknowing consumers to jump on the hot deals and “buy” the Ray Ban’s at such low prices. Once the links are clicked on, the consumer is redirected to what looks like a legitimate discount website that is offering deals with up to 80% savings on multiple styles, see Figure 2 and Figure 3 for examples.
The phisher hopes that the deal is too good for the consumer to pass up and engages in purchasing the product. Here, the phisher is hoping the consumer will enter their personal data like first and last name, emails address, personal home address and credit card information, to then flip and sell to third parties.
It is always smart to use best practices when shopping online. Here are a few tips:
- Do a bit of research and go directly to the name brand website to see what offers are on the official website
- Look for plain websites as a warning, as they are quickly put together with minimal tabs and functionality
- Look for poor grammar and misspellings; because these fake sites are so quickly put together, often times spell checking isn’t their highest priority
Barracuda Labs encourages – if you do get tagged in an ad like this or find it posted to your wall – immediately untag yourself and delete it from your wall so you can avoid letting your friends or family members fall victim to the scam as well.
For more resources on the Big Business of Spam, you can see previous posts here:
The cover for Vanity Fair’s July 2015 print issue was publicized on the Vanity Fair website June 1, and revealed the newly transformed, Caitlyn Jenner. The cover photo went viral reaching over 46 million people across Vanity Fair’s website and social media – with the internet virtually exploding. Jenner even beat President Obama’s record for reaching 1 million Twitter followers in just under five hours.
With Jenner’s name in the headlines this week, it’s no surprise that spammers have jumped on the opportunity to try and use her likeliness to trick users into visiting sites to push beauty products in hopes to gain monetary value.
So far, we’ve seen over 100K samples and variants of spam emails using Caitlyn Jenner as the lure to get people to click on compromised links. The emails all have different subject lines, but include the same content in the email body. The spam appears to be coming from possible compromised machines, most of which trace back to IP addresses in the United States.
Figure 1 below is an example of the emails that are being sent out in large quantities, hoping to entice users into clicking on spammy links. The embedded links in the email titled “Caitlyn swears she just used this” and “Here is what went down” redirects users to the following website –
http://www.goodbodyhealthtips.org/index.php?aff_sub=1394&aff_sub2=190076&aff_sub3=1021342e9d6b955d9a9c66e5ed3293 (labeled “wrinkle miracle”) – that pushes an anti-aging facial cream to prevent wrinkles, revealed by Dr. Oz called Dermakin Anti-Aging Cream.
As shown in Figure 2 below, once on the page, the user will see the headline “Revealed by Dr. Oz! Jen’s Closely Guarded Secret For A Wrinkle Free Face” that is said to be featured in Yahoo!, Woman’s Day, VANITY FAIR, TIME, People and Aol.
Figure 3 below shows that while on the page, the user will see “before” and “after” photos of stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Katie Couric, Goldie Hawn and Barbara Streisand who have allegedly used the wrinkle cream.
At the bottom of the page (see Figure 4), there is a “limited time offer for readers” and an expiration date of June 3, 2015. The spammer’s hope is that the recipient will click on the prompt titled “Click Here to Get a Bottle of Dermakin Anti-Aging Cream” to purchase the product, sharing sensitive information in the process.
Below this ‘special offer’ the spammers have posted fake Facebook comments to make the product appear even more real, (see Figure 6).
The above tricks used by spammers to fool unsuspecting consumers are not new. We’ve recently seen the likes of Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray being used to promote a weight loss pill that promises to melt fat away – https://barracudalabs.com/2015/05/the-big-business-of-spam-dr-ozs-brand-new-trick-to-shed-27-pounds-in-just-one-month/.
Unfortunately, this is another example of how scammers are building a big business around the use of various spam techniques. As a natural rule of thumb, it’s probably best to keep in mind, that if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Users are protected against this type of email spam with Barracuda Spam Firewall and Barracuda Email Security Service. For more in this Barracuda Labs blog series, The Big Business of Spam, please visit:
For more education on how to keep safe from these types of emails, please visit: Barracuda Central
Additional blogs around the topic –
With a high obesity rate in the United States, people are looking for hope to find a miracle cure for weight loss. Unfortunately, spammers understand this and why it’s no surprise that Barracuda Central has picked up about 6,000 diet spam type emails since the beginning of 2015. With the Memorial Day holiday just passing, signaling bikini season, it’s also no surprise we have seen a rise in the volume of diet spam – showing just how intelligent spammers’ planning around the timing of certain types of spam are creating the big business of spam.
One name that is often seen in the media in relation to cures for weight loss is Dr. Oz, who is no stranger to being scrutinized. Spammers often take advantage of his namesake and people’s hope for a weight loss miracle cure.
In this specific email (figure 1), when a user opens a link, they will be directed to a news webpage that describes Dr. Oz’s weight loss discovery. This type of spam often displays names and pictures of well-known people, to try to entice the reader even more – Rachel Ray is used in the example below (figure 2). The site claims that “Pure Forskolin Extract,” (see Ad in Figure 3) which was actually introduced on the Dr. Oz show, is a “miracle pill” weight loss solution. It claims to burn body fat, and leaves the person with only lean muscle.
Although the website is fake, part of the website’s content make it look legitimate to users. The first thing that the user will notice is the video of Dr. Oz advertising the Forskolin supplement that causes belly fat to melt. The website also uses content from healthierlivingdecision.com to make it look legitimate and mask the true nature of the site. But if the user clicks on any of the links on the website, including the registration link, it will direct them to the product page where they are prompted to enter their personal information, including their credit card. Once the scammer has this information, they may charge the victim for products that they will never receive.
To further convince people to buy the product, the website has reviews written by what appears to be users logged into Facebook. Recent research discovered that 51 percent of millennials say social opinions influence their purchase decisions. Read more on that here. Here they’ve adopted marketing and business tactics to maximize their ROI. Yet another example of how serious spammers are in attempting to run their scam like a business.
As long as Dr. Oz is in the media and there is a want for a miracle weight loss pills, spammers will be taking advantage of his audience.
Examples: Dr. Oz Diet Trend Spam
- CBS News, Dr. Oz Defend “Quack Treatments” On Air.
It is important to always use best practices when sharing sensitive information like, home mailing address, first and last names and credit card information. If you are doing any type of online shopping we stress that you go directly to the site rather than clicking on unfamiliar emails, attachments or links. Users are protected against this type of email spam with Barracuda Spam Firewall and Barracuda Email Security Service.
This is yet another example of how scammers are building a big business around the use of various spam techniques. As always, we recommend that no unsolicited donations made, the buying of products or services purchased or sensitive information be shared online with persons or organizations that are not familiar. As a natural rule of thumb, it’s probably best to keep in mind, that if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. For more in this Barracuda Labs blog series, The Big Business of Spam, please visit:
For more education on how to keep safe from these types of emails, please visit Barracuda Central.
Additional blogs around the topic –