Organized Cyber Crime
We know that the Internet is filled with scammers. They are in your inbox, on Craigslist, Facebook, and other social media sites. We may think of these cyber criminals as individuals with computer and hacking skills, preying upon the vulnerable online. But what happens when cyber crime becomes organized? It means the tools and range of crimes will far surpass the abilities of a single hacker.
An Airbnb Scam
There are plenty of scammers manipulating the success of Airbnb. People have been creating fake listings that appear to be connected to the site since its inception. More recently, these scams have been bolstered by the creation of the website known as Land Lordz. This site was developed as a tool to automate the process of adding and managing fake listings, as well as communication with potential victims. This means that anyone that wants to get in on the Airbnb (or other site) scam now has a ready-made tool to do so and can do it on a much larger scale.
Here’s how it works: the victim comes across an advertisement for a great deal on a (likely dubious) vacation rental site. He connects with the “owner” (read: scammer) via email or other messaging app. The scammer offers assurances of Airbnb’s policies and protections and sends the victim a link that appears to go to Airbnb’s website. The link instead takes the victim to a falsified site that mirrors the style and content of Airbnb. On this page, the victim inputs his Airbnb login, which is captured by the site. Victims will see fake positive reviews for the “owner” and the property. The victim may then go on to send deposit money to the scammer. Once the login credentials and money are stolen, the scammer typically cuts off contact completely, leaving the victim with little recourse.
Anytime you hit the Internet looking for goods or services, be skeptical. Know that there are people looking to scam you out of your money, login credentials, and anything else of value they can extract. As the Internet has matured, so have online scams. Sites like Land Lordz increase both the level of sophistication and reach of phishing scams.
When communicating with any unknown person on the Internet, make a rule to not click on any links from them – they may lead to phishing sites. If you must click on a link from a message, check the web address to be sure you are on a valid site before you divulge any sensitive information like login or credit card information. It’s best to search for goods and services on known, reputable sites. In the example above, the original ads were posted on a free classified site. These sites are not regulated and protected in the same way as sites like Airbnb. In fact, Airbnb has its own messaging feature so there is no reason to communicate using a separate method.
Phishing scams, even sophisticated ones, can be combated with awareness and vigilance. To stay safe online, only take action after careful evaluation.