Imagine getting a friend request from your favorite YouTube celebrity. Of course, you might be skeptical. However, when you check the request out, it seems real and actually comes from the account of that celebrity. Here is an example that I put together to show what the request would look like.
Even if you may have doubts about the legitimacy of the request, with everything checking out, you might just think you have nothing to lose. So you accept the friend request.
Shortly after accepting the friend request, you receive another message from the celebrity. According to research done on this scam by RiskIQ, that message will look something like this.
(Don’t worry, the link leads to a removed Twitter page.)
Again, such a message may seem suspicious, but it does look real enough. You may wonder why the writer didn’t have grammatical control over articles but, then again, he’s cool and maybe it’s cool nowadays to use no articles in sentences. So, you figure, why not just go visit the link and see what’s going on there? “Who knows? Maybe I did win something.”
If you follow one of these links, you will get to a page that looks like this.
Clicking on “Get it Now” will take you to a page below the main page (not to an external link) that looks like this.
At first, I saw no reason for a redirect within the same page, but, then, I noticed that you would get the address of the link in the lower left hand corner of your screen if you hovered over the “Get It Now” in the first page, but you would see nothing if you hovered over it in the second page. Clicking “Get iPhone X” begins your selection process, which takes you here, and probably makes you think that this is for real.
In the same manner, you will be asked to “Now choose your capacity”, and then a page entitled, “What’s in the Box”, showing actual pictures of cables and other items. Finally, you arrive at the first key page, “Shipping Info”, where your name, address, email, and location will be harvested.
If you click “Next” without filling in any information, you will get a message to complete the fields. I made up some information and clicked “Next”. This begins a fake verification process with a simulated black progress bar going across the screen. You then reach this page.
At this point, it seems you must be awfully close to getting your new iPhone, so, you probably think, “Why not just verify that I’m actually human?”
In fact, this is where the real scam begins. All the rest was just to set you up. Clicking on the “Verify Now” link connects you to a Fileoasis site (or a similar site) where you get this message.
Scamadvisor gives the following information on this site, which should give you some concern.
Fileoasis appears to be part of a net of scam survey companies. Some sites associated with this scam net will claim that they will pay you for completing surveys, but that’s just a way for them to get your personal information. This scam net gathers information from all participants and markets it for themselves, perhaps, even selling it to valid online marketing firms. Clicking on one of the options shown above will take you to these fake survey sites or to sites offering free gift cards to well known stores. All you have to do is give them some personal information and… In short, you will get nothing for all of your work.
The problem is that there really are legitimate survey sites that either pay in cash or give some other kind of compensation. The fake sites copy their format to look as real as possible. Often, they will award the unwary victim with points rather than pay them money. The points can be later used for products. The problem is that these scam companies never seem to award you points because they always find a reason not to. Some will even charge you a fee for working for them.
When I investigated this scam, I found that you could not access the target sites through the Tor browser or well known VPN services. This is probably because they are also harvesting your IP information.
The personal information the scammers gather in these nets is sold to shady online marketers who then sell it to businesses who want to do legitimate online marketing. Email addresses are especially valued as they have, according to one marketing site, the largest return on investment (ROI)).
At least 80% of Americans are now having their email addresses used for online marketing and most don’t even know it. One company offers 400 million American email addresses to marketers for a mere $1000. The emails are also broken into categories. For example, you can buy the email addresses of 9 million American CEOs or 3 million American boat owners for $400.
So what begins as a surprising friend request from a YouTube celebrity ends in a massive personal data selling scheme that nets the scammers millions of dollars. It could, and even may, get worse. The front end of the scam is working really well at this point in time. This means that the same hook may be used to lead victims to more nefarious sites, such as those that ask for social security numbers or credit card data. It could also lead you to sites that download malware onto your device. You could become a victim of ransomware. The bottom line is that you could be led to sites or convinced to do things that may end with you losing lots of money. And, no, you won’t get your iPhone.