Wednesday, August 17

Computer scam abuses story of false girl with cancer | Digital Trends Spanish


The last decade has seen a rise in personal crowdfunding, with people raising money online for a variety of causes, from school supplies to medical bills to funeral expenses. The appeals are made through social networks, imploring the help of friends, family and acquaintances. And, like so much else on the Internet, some of these actions they are really scams.

Recently, the Avast Threat Labs team has identified a new scam circulating on the YouTube platform. In a harrowing video ad, a little girl sits in a hospital gown. She is she has her hair shaved and cries as she speaks to the camera. She herself is the one who informs the viewer that she has cancer and that her family cannot afford the treatment.

“The treatment costs a lot of money and my parents can’t afford it,” she explains through tears. “Please help me get well. Please. I don’t want to die.”

The video impacts the receivers for its emotional content. And then offers them the ability to donate through a linked fundraising page. In this way, visitors can help save “Alexandra” (or Ariela, Ksenia or Barbara, depending on the video).

“Although there is no way of knowing who this girl really is or what her situation is, we do know for sure that it is a scam and that the more than 640,000 dollars already collected will not be used for treatment,” says Pavel Novak, an analyst at Avast threat operations. “We have found a whole selection of videos of the same girl, with appeals in Arabic, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Hebrew. Videos with similar appeals have also been detected, but with different girls.

In total, the videos of this “girl with cancer” scam have received more than 10 million views.

In addition to the above facts, the Avast team has found the following indications that the “girl with cancer” videos are a scam:

  • All domains were recently registered.
  • The videos use anonymous email addresses, such as [email protected], [email protected]
  • “Alexandra” and “Ariela” have the same contact email addresses, even though the videos are of two different girls from very different geographies.
  • The address can be traced to a residential complex in Jerusalem.

The videos also use hyperbolic statements, such as the fact that the girl’s cancer has spread throughout her body. They ask for donations to treat said cancer, although if the cancer has already spread it is probably too late for medical intervention. Lack of specificity, which is a common red flag in online scams.

“This scam, like so many others, takes advantage of altruistic impulses that human beings have to help each other”, affirms Novak. “It’s especially malicious and unethical because it not only erodes people’s trust in personal crowdfunding and charity, it diverts money away from real causes and institutions. It also potentially takes advantage of a real girl, sick or not, whose video was stolen for the scam or who is being forced to act out this scene.”

Since the Cancer Girl scam became known, Avast researchers have blocked all related domains they could find, protecting nearly 1,000 users in just 48 hours. They have also reported the videos to Youtube, and the scam to the Israel CERT. Lastly, there are similar scams being spread via email, although Avast researchers suspect the two campaigns are unrelated, despite using the same scenario. Ensuring safety online is a complex task that ultimately falls to each individual, who must treat everything they see online with a critical eye and pause before hitting the “donate” button.

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