Scammers Gear Up to Phish in Troubled Waters

Many countries are going through turbulent times due to natural disasters. In fact, emotions do run high when disasters strike—people are moved and understandably want to share in helping affected victims by donating to relief funds. The most recent natural disaster that Australia, Brazil, and the Philippines are grappling with is the flash flooding and the immense loss that it has caused to life and property.

History tells us that when natural disasters such as bush fires, floods, earthquakes and other natural calamities strike, they cause untold repercussions. Rehabilitation, restructuring, and methods to curtail further losses become a formidable challenge. One method used to combat such situations is the appeal for relief funds, donations, and government compensations in cash or kind.

Spammers would never let any such opportunities pass by without preying on them. Don’t be surprised to see your inbox bombarded with heart-wrenching emails requesting you to donate towards relief funds.

In the past there has been natural disaster related spam in which users received emails requesting help that contain images that are actually loaded with viruses. International agencies, as well as government and private relief organizations, were spoofed with subject lines appealing for help and donations.  Users were enticed to open such messages and respond, thus triggering embedded viruses and causing damage.

We at Symantec are waiting in anticipation for such exploits. We observed surges of spam and phishing attacks when California was blazing with bush fires and when Italy and Haiti suffered massive earthquakes. The recent devastating floods in Brazil, Australia, and the Philippines are sure to become bait for spammers.

We anticipate that spammers will take full advantage of this grim situation. The attacks could be more significant than those experienced in the past, on account of the use of botnets to push out spam messages. Such situations are ideal for bots to widen their network to new geographies. Therefore we advise users to be cautious of possible scams and email attachments on the topic of these recent natural disasters that appear in their inboxes. Don’t get lured into becoming prey for such sinister attacks.

Thanks to Christopher Mendes for his contribution.