Facebook scammers hijack names of Malaysia Flight 17 victims


Debris lies at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region on Monday. (Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

While families of the Malaysia Flight 17 crash victims face an agonizing wait for proper burials, online scammers have already started to hijack their memories for profit.

At least six Facebook pages were created using the names of victims killed when the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine, according to a report from the Canberra Times. The pages contained a link to a blog site claiming to have information about the crash, but users who clicked it on it were instead hit with pop-up ads for "online gambling, get-rich-quick schemes, and other dubious products and services." Facebook has since removed the pages, Mashable reports.

The previous Malaysia Airlines tragedy, which involved the disappearance of Flight 370 in March, also attracted Facebook scammers. Fake news stories and videos popped up on the social networking site, some (falsely) claiming that the plane had been found. But users who clicked on the site were taken to external sites aimed at harvesting their personal information or asking them to complete surveys that would earn the scammers money.

Unfortunately, often when tragedy strikes online scammers are not far behind. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, cybercriminals used spam featuring subject lines about the attack to spread malware.

“Almost inevitably,  the result of a global disaster like MH17 has resulted in cybercriminals looking to cash in, just as we saw with recent natural disasters and the fake donation emails for victims." says Raj Samani, CTO of EMEA for cybersecurity company McAfee. " Unfortunately this trend does not seem to be slowing, with cybercriminals trying every method to coerce recipients into clicking onto links, or donating money.”

Outside of the digital world, there are widespread reports that looters rifled through the victims' belongings at the site of the Flight 17 crash -- stealing cash, jewelry and credit cards. A statement from the Dutch Banking Association stressed that stolen debit cards generally could not be used without a pin code and that losses resulting from their use would be reimbursed to the victims' next of kin. Over 190 of the 298 passengers on the flight were Dutch.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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