BBB: Scams exploit a beloved person’s death

08/23/2014 8:02 AM

08/26/2014 12:36 PM

By now, no one should be surprised at the lengths scammers will go to online.

The Better Business Bureau has repeatedly had to warn the public about scam attempts after tragedies like tornadoes, school shootings and earthquakes have occurred. Now, after the death of Robin Williams, the BBB is warning of scammers’ efforts on social media sites to use the actor’s popularity for their own purposes.

Teasing readers with promises of downloadable photos, videos and commemorative souvenirs, scammers are once again tricking people into clicking on such content. Instead online readers may be getting malware secretly installed onto their computers, which is designed to make their personal information accessible to thieves.

Sometimes the goal, slightly less harmful, is to generate clicks for a particular website, get the reader to take a survey or sell them overpriced merchandise. In any case, they are misleading the public for their own gain.

The latest incident involves fake “opportunities” to read a Robin Williams suicide note or watch “Robin Williams’ goodbye video,” which he supposedly made with his cellphone moments before his death. This much-loved celebrity is having his death exploited by shameless scammers using a practice that is being called “click-baiting.”

The term “click-bait” has recently morphed into something more sinister than it once was. For some time “click-baiting” was used to define the practice – especially popularized on the BuzzFeed website – of writing teasing headlines in order to persuade online readers to click on a story. Examples might include headlines like these: “You won’t believe what this woman did to her ex,” or “Find out which Seinfeld character you are.”

Such headlines may have become annoying to online readers, but as examples of click-baiting, they are relatively harmless. Scammers’ use of headlines and story teasers designed to pique your interest have the more sinister purpose described earlier.

Their version of click-baiting is actually another form of “click-jacking,” the hijacking of your online clicks to take you where you did not want to be taken.

The primary ways scammers exploit tragedies are:

Impersonating victims or their family members on social media.

Posting teasers for sensational videos or photos.

Selling memorabilia and falsely claiming proceeds go to charities.

Guard yourself against such con artists by using these practices:

Avoid outlandish photos and videos. Words like “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” should be red flag warnings for you to ignore the posting.

Without clicking, mouse over a link to see where it takes you. If it’s unfamiliar, avoid it.

Don’t trust what appears to be likes by your online “friends.” They could have had their accounts hijacked.

Click on the down arrow on the upper right of your Facebook page, select “Report a problem,” and notify Facebook of a scam when discovered.

There is evidence that the fake video of Robin Williams already has been shared more than 24 million times. Do not become a part of this sad trend on social media. Avoid sensationalism and thereby avoid being victimized.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or

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