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SEC: Watch Out for Hurricane Ida Related Investment Scams

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a warning about fraud associated with Hurricane Ida, which wreaked havoc in numerous states last week with torrential rain and tornadoes, leaving millions without power. 

The SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy releases investor alerts regularly to caution investors about the latest investment frauds and scams. Fraudsters would most likely target people who may receive compensation from insurance companies in the form of huge payouts as a direct result of Hurricane Ida's destruction. 

The SEC explained, “These scams can take many forms, including promoters touting companies purportedly involved in cleanup and repair efforts, trading programs that falsely guarantee high returns, and classic Ponzi schemes where new investors' money is used to pay money promised to earlier investors." 

"Some scams may be promoted through email and social media posts promising high returns for small, thinly-traded companies that supposedly will reap huge profits from recovery and cleanup efforts." 

AccuWeather CEO, Dr Joel Myers calculated that Hurricane Ida caused almost $95 billion in total damage and economic loss. Millions of individuals will now have to deal with insurance companies to cover the cost of water damage and other difficulties caused by the hurricane's aftermath. 

The SEC added that following the devastation by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they were compelled to take action against hundreds of false and misleading statements concerning alleged business prospects.

Precautionary Measures

In the context of mitigating the risk and preventive measures, SEC urged, "Be sceptical if you are approached by somebody touting an investment opportunity. Ask that person whether he or she is licensed and whether the investment they are promoting is registered with the SEC or with a state." 

"Take a close look at your entire financial situation before making any investment decision, especially if you are a recipient of a lump sum payment. Remember, your payment may have to last you and your family for a long time." 

This advisory follows the one issued by the FBI's New Orleans office, which warned the public about an elevated risk of scammers attempting to profit from the natural calamity. 

"Unfortunately, hurricane or natural disaster damage often provides opportunities for criminals to scam storm victims and those who are assisting victims with recovery," the FBI warned. 

The FBI also offered a list of safeguards that victims of natural disasters should follow to avoid getting scammed, including: 
  • Unsolicited (spam) emails should be ignored. 
  • Be cautious of anyone posing as government officials and requesting money via email. 
  • Clicking on links in unsolicited emails is not a fine decision. 
  • Only open attachments from known senders; be wary of emails purporting to have photos in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. 
  • Do not give out personal or financial information to anybody asking for donations; doing so might jeopardize your identity and leave you vulnerable to identity theft. 
  • Be vigilant of emails purporting to provide employment. 
  • Before transferring money to a potential landlord, do your research on the advertisement.

Is Apple's Monopoly Making Its Security Vulnerable?


It's a well-known fact that Apple’s devices are undoubtedly way safer than any other company’s products, however, in recent research analysis, many reports claimed it to be a myth. 

According to the experts, Apple’s complex process of downloading apps has created a notion of added security but seemingly such is not the case, as revealed in deeper examinations. 

Reportedly, around 2% of the top-grossing iOS apps, are in some way, scams. Customers of several VPN apps, which protect users’ data, have complained against Apple App Store – saying that their devices are contaminated by a virus that tricks them to download and pay for software that they don’t need. 

An illegal QR code reader app that remains for a week on the store tricks users into paying $4.99. Moreover, some apps even mock themselves as being from big global organizations such as Amazon and Samsung. 

Apple always maintained its exclusive command on the App Store and describes this as its policy which is essential for customer’s sensitive personal credentials. Apple has a monopoly in the App market in terms of customer trust. However, some analysts said that this is indeed the biggest problem that there is no competition against this giant in the market, if some companies will come with alternatives then– as a matter of fact – Apple will invest more money in strengthening their security measures. 

“If consumers were to have access to alternative app stores or other methods of distributing software, Apple would be a lot more likely to take this problem more seriously,” said Stan Miles, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. 

As per the statistics, that Apple generates huge profit from the App store; around 30 percent of its revenue is constituted by the App store. 

Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz said in a statement that, “We hold developers to high standards to keep the App Store a safe and trusted place for customers to download software, and we will always take action against apps that pose a harm to users…” 

“…Apple leads the industry with practices that put the safety of our customers first, and we’ll continue learning, evolving our practices, and investing the necessary resources to make sure customers are presented with the very best experience.”

Ongoing Bitcoin Scams Show Power of Social Engineering Triggers

Over the last seven months, the number of Bitcoin scams has increased dramatically. The scams began around October 2020 and are still going on today. “Since October 2020, reports have skyrocketed, with approximately 7,000 people reporting losses of more than $80 million on these scams,” the FTC reported on May 17, 2021. 

It explains two different types of scams: The first is to entice victims to phoney websites that appear to be legitimate and offer investment opportunities and the second is essentially a celebrity scam, in which the alleged celebrity claims to triple every bitcoin investment instantly. Elon Musk's name is often used as a celebrity in the latter scam. He is used to lend legitimacy to the scam because of his business acumen and involvement in cryptocurrencies. 

The BBC reported on May 13, 2021, that a schoolteacher had lost £9,000 (nearly $12,750) after being duped into visiting a fake website. The study didn't say how she was tricked, but the website was a parody of the BBC. According to a fake news article, “Tesla buys $1.5 billion in bitcoin, plans to give $750 million of it away”, only the second half of the headline is incorrect. Tesla did, in fact, purchase $1.5 billion in bitcoin in February 2021, citing the need for “more versatility to further diversify and optimize returns on our cash.” 

Grammatical pedants may have seen a red flag in the fake BBC website's use of the word "giveaway" (generally a noun) instead of "give away" (the correct form for an action). Scams are known for grammatical and typographical mistakes, but the fake website is otherwise very convincing. The teacher invested £9,000 with the expectation of receiving £18,000 in return but got nothing. 

A month before, the BBC reported on a Twitter-based scam that resulted in a much larger loss. The real Elon Musk tweeted “Dojo 4 Doge” on February 22, 2021. Using the handle with the name Elon Musk on Twitter, a scammer offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to send up to 20 bitcoin and earn double. The victim fell for it and submitted 10 bitcoins, which he promptly lost – about £497,000 (nearly $700,000).

Bitdefender, a security company, recently reported on two email campaigns with similar themes. In two separate campaigns, tens of thousands of fraudulent Tesla-related emails were sent. Both campaigns have the same pitch: send Elon Musk some bitcoin and he'll give you back twice as much. The first campaign makes use of a PDF attachment, apart from the PDF's post, which reads, "Our marketing department here at Tesla HQ came up with an idea: to hold a special giveaway event for all crypto fans out there," there is nothing malicious about it. The PDF contains instructions on how to send bitcoin and earn twice the sum in return. “ELON MUSK 5,000 B T C GIVEAWAY!” is a popular subject line for emails. 

Other emails, on the other hand, are personalized, including the user's username. Nearly 80% of the emails in this campaign seem to have been sent from IP addresses in Germany. According to the researchers, “11% of the fraudulent emails hit users in the United Kingdom, 79.26% in Sweden, and 9.22% in the United States.” 

The second campaign consists of a simple email containing details about the fraudulent giveaway and a Bitcoin Address QR Code that can be scanned by participants. The email reads, "If you want to participate in the giveaway, it's very simple! All you have to do is send any amount of Bitcoin (BTC) to our official donation address for this case (between 0.1 BTC and 50 BTC), and once we receive your transaction, we will immediately send back (2x) to the address from which you sent the BTC.” 

On the other hand, Bitdefender states that “at the moment, one of the perps' crypto wallets reveals 31 transactions totaling 1965.21 dollars.” All of these bitcoin scams show that it's almost impossible to keep users from falling for good social engineering – whether it's a scam or a phishing assault. In this scenario, the campaigns hit all the right notes: believability, celebrity endorsement, urgency, and most importantly, greed.

Hackers Exploit Ad Networks to Launch Phishing Attacks against Android Users


The hackers are exploiting mobile ad networks that take the android users to malicious websites. After this, hackers can either steal personal user information or attack the victim's Android device with spams. The Google play store has more than 400 apps that come with ads as a means to generate money for app developers. But recently, the hackers are exploiting these ad networks with the help of an SDK (Software Development Kit). The SDKs help app developers earn money, and the hackers are inserting code to attack the ad network.


According to the research done by Wandera, which is a mobile security firm, the hackers send domain and URLs to the users via the ads. The distribution systems are called Startapp, that allows the hackers to swamp the android device with spams and malicious websites. Startapp isn't responsible for any of the malicious content distributed. However, it is funded by a few agencies that distribute its malicious content. Startapp hasn't responded to the questions of its involvement in this cyberattack. "Our researchers wanted to explore a service that wasn't associated with a single well-known advertiser, such as Google or Facebook, so they took a closer look at the framework from StartApp, which would presumably provide app developers with ads from a wider variety of advertising networks," says Wandera' research report.

It also says that more than 90% of the distributed through the Startapp framework originate from a single ad provider.  Wandera, however, didn't identify the provider's name, but Cyberscoop has identified it as "AdSalsa." AdSalsa is a digital marketing firm that operates from Spain and is responsible for ads that direct users to these malicious websites.

"We help app publishers and developers turn their apps into successful businesses by using advanced data insights to identify relevant campaigns across direct and programmatic channels for each publisher's unique users. Over 400,000 apps have already integrated our lightweight, easy to incorporate advertising SDK. When combined with our mediation options, you can begin earning revenue from your apps in minutes," says StartApp on its website.  Experts at Wandera found 700 apps on Google play store using StartApp's SDK feature. Google, however, has removed 47% of these SDKs, according to Wandera. The exploitation of this advertising, which has now become malvertising, is creating problems for the app developers to secure their apps.

Google Is All Set To Fight The Coronavirus Themed Phishing Attacks and Scams


These days of lock-down have left cyber-criminals feeling pretty antsy about “working from home”. Not that it has mattered because apparently, that is why the number of cyber-crime cases has only hiked especially the Phishing attacks.

This has gotten Google working on its machine-learning models to bolster the security of Gmail to create a stronger security front against cyber-criminals.

Given the current conditions, the attackers seem to have a morbid sense when it comes to the themes of the Phishing attacks, i.e. COVID-19. Reportedly, 18 Million such attacks were blocked in a single week. Which amount up to 2.5% of the 100 Million phishing attacks it allegedly dodges every day.

Google, per sources, is also occupied with jamming around 240 Million spam messages on a daily basis. These phishing attacks and spams at such a worrisome time have impelled Google and Microsoft to modify their products’ mechanisms for creating a better security structure.

Reportedly, the number of phishing attacks, in general, hasn’t risen but in the already existing number of attacks, the use of COVID-19 or Coronavirus seems to have been used a lot.

Malware and phishing attacks, especially the ones related to COVID-19 are being pre-emptively monitored. Because being resourceful as the cyber-criminals are the existing campaigns are now being employed with little upgradations to fit the current situation.


A few of the annoying phishing emails include, ones pretending to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) to fool victims into making donations for VICTIMS to a falsified account.

Per the intelligence teams of Microsoft, the Coronavirus themed phishing attacks and scams are just the remodeled versions of the previous attacks.

The attackers are extremely adaptive to the things and issues that their victims might easily get attracted to. Hence a wide variety of baits could be noticed from time to time.

During the lock-down period of the pandemic, health-related and humanitarian organizations have been extensively mentioned in the scams and phishing emails.

Per sources, the Advanced Protection Program (APP) lately acquired new malware protections by enabling Google Play Protect On Android devices to some specifically enrolled accounts.

Allegedly, users trying to join the program with default security keys were suspended, while the ones with physical security keys were still allowed to be enrolled.

All the bettered security provisions of Google shall be turned on by default so that the users can continue to live a safe and secure life amidst the pandemic.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Names Used for Fake Celebrity Endorsement of Bitcoins?


While the Coronavirus pandemic has practically driven people to stay locked up in their homes and spend a lot more (in some cases almost all) of their time online, the possibilities for cyber-criminals have only flourished.

Cyber-security experts have realized this and made a note out of it that everyone knows the kind of danger is lurking in their cyber-world.

From elaborate scams to phishing attacks that target the victim’s personal information, there is a lot of people who need to be cautious about it.

The Cryptocurrency industry is going through a lot due to the current crisis the world is in. The 'crypto-partakers" are being particularly on the hit list with something as attention-grabbing as purportedly “celebrity endorsement”. The latest bait names for this attempt happen to be that of charming Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Well-known personalities’ names like Bill Gates, Lord Sugar and even Richard Branson have been misused to lure people in as a part of similar scams. It is not necessary for the people mentioned to belong to a particular industry. They could be anyone famous for that matter.

The scams are so elaborate that once fooled the victims can’t even trace the mal-agent and. The latest scam, per sources, employs a fake report from the “BBC” mentioning how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle found themselves a “wealth loophole”.
Per sources, they also assure their targets that in a matter of three to four months they could convert them into millionaires. Further on, allegedly, it is also mentioned that the royals think of the Cryptocurrency auto-trading as the “Bitcoin Evolution”. It reportedly also includes a fake statement to have been made by Prince Harry.

The overconfident scammers also declare that there is no other application that performs the trading with the accuracy like theirs. Reportedly, on their website, there are banners with “countdowns” forcing people to think that there are limited period offers.

According to researchers this is one of the many schemes desperate cyber-criminals resort to. People not as used to the Cryptocurrency industry and the trading area, in particular, are more vulnerable to such highly bogus scams and tricks that the cyber-criminals usually have up their sleeves.

The Ascent of Gift Card Scams Leads in the Rise of Amount of Money Being Lost


With the rise of phishing attacks, business email compromise (BEC) campaigns and gift scams bring along with it the rise in the amount of money being lost.

Investigation by researchers at Agari, an email security enterprise, published in the cybersecurity organization's most recent 'Quarterly Fraud and Identity Deception' trends report – found that gift card cheats picked up footing especially during the end of 2019, accounting 62% of all BEC attacks, up from 56% during the previous quarter.

These attacks frequently include cybercriminals assuming control over business email accounts and utilizing a 'stolen identity' to email others in the association to demand the acquisition of gift cards. A common tactic is to act like somebody in the management requesting an employee to help them out – in light of the fact that by and large, the employee won't scrutinize a solicitation that is apparently coming from their boss.

The 'run-up' to the holiday season simply presented the criminals with the ideal chance to go ahead with their gift- card attacks, as they could easily do with the solicitation being framed as that for Christmas presents. The normal sum mentioned in gift-card attacks has risen somewhat to $1,627, with the base sum tending to come in at $250. In some progressively ambitious cases, cybercriminals have requested gift cards worth $10,000 to be transferred – by focusing on employees over different departments simultaneously.

Criminals are pulled in to BEC attacks since they end up being fruitful and they're easy to carry out. In any case, associations can go far to forestalling phishing and other email-based attacks from being successful by implementing additional security on accounts, very much like the multi-factor authentication, as well as human-level 'checks- and balances'.

As per, Crane Hassold, senior director of threat research at Agari, "Gift cards have become the preferred method of cashing out for a number of reasons. First, it makes everyone at any company the potential target of a BEC attack, not just the finance and HR departments. We've seen campaigns that have targeted 30-40 employees at a single company at one time in gift-card BEC scams,"

The value of the gift cards mentioned may show up small when considered individually, yet the total costs add up, particularly given how the attacks remain so fruitful and simple to cash out.

The most widely recognized solicitations are for gift cards for Google Play and eBay, very closely followed by Target, iTunes, and Walmart. Best Buy, Amazon, Steam and the Apple Store additionally make for some very well-known requests.

Cyber criminals thrive in India’s IT capital

Cyber criminals seem to be thriving in India’s IT capital; in the last four months alone, Bengalureans lost Rs 32 crore to various online scams. A 39-year-old woman was the biggest victim—a fraudulent suitor who befriended her through a matrimonial website made away with Rs 33 lakh.

The cybercrime police station of the Bengaluru city police has recorded a staggering 3,180 cases in four months since mid-January.

Last year, Sumathi (name changed) from Jayanagar had registered with a well-known marriage portal to find a match. Little did she know that the prince charming who approached her as a UK-based Indian doctor expressing interest to settle down with her in Bengaluru was an online imposter. He got her into parting her hard-earned money through numerous online transfers.

“She was lured by an exciting gift packet the man claimed to have sent from the UK. Then came the false excuse of Indian customs officials seizing the gift for duty. She fell for it and transferred lakhs of rupees, trusting the man who trapped her with sweet words and promise of marriage in a brief period,” said an officer.

Rise in matrimonial fraud

Sumathi is one among the many victims of online imposters who’ve siphoned off Rs 32 crore since February through various techniques—credit card skimming, vishing, phishing, e-wallet scam, online car sales con, Facebook fraud, airline ticketing trickery and an array of other Nigerian scams. Matrimonial frauds topped the charts in the four months with hundreds of women being targeted by crooks, mainly through paid portals and Facebook messenger.

“Every day, we register close to 40 FIRs regarding bank frauds, including phishing, vishing and illegal money withdrawal from accounts through ATMs. People still fall prey to lottery fraud, the oldest trick in the trade,” said an officer. He said the cybercrime wing register nearly 1,000 FIRs a month.