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Con Watch: 6 Winter Olympics Scams

Published: January 31, 2018

Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.

Although the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, are still more than a week away, criminals are already using this popular event to cheat people around the world. Once the games actually begin, the scams will only increase. Here are some Olympics-related scams you should be aware of:

1. Championship Check Cheaters. An email that appears to come from the United States Olympic Committee offers to pay you $350 a week to wrap your car with advertising for the Olympic Games and drive around town as usual.

Unsuspecting victims who respond to the email are sent a check for more than the amount to be paid. They are instructed to deposit the check into their bank account and wire the rest back to the company. Unfortunately, the check that the scammer sent was counterfeit. The money that was wired back to the scammer came right out of the victim’s bank account.

A check sent to you that is more than the amount you are owed and comes with a request for you to send back the overpayment amount is always a scam.

2. Gold-Medal Malware. Once the games are underway, many people will receive emails and text messages purporting to contain updates, photos, and videos of Olympic events. Unfortunately, if you click on links or download attachments sent by scammers, you will end up downloading either ransomware or malware that will steal information from your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone and use that information to steal your identity.

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Never click on any link or download any attachment unless you are absolutely sure it is legitimate. Even if the address of the sender appears legitimate, the address may have been “spoofed” to appear genuine. You are better off going directly on your own to sources that you know you can trust, such as www.espn.com or NBCOlympics.com, for up-to-date information, photos, and videos.

3. The Sponsor Spoof. It’s difficult to win any lottery, but it’s impossible to win one that you haven’t even entered. Emails that appear to be from Coca-Cola, McDonalds, or any of the other sponsors of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games tell the intended victims that they have just won a huge Olympics-related lottery. All the victim has to do to claim the multi-million-dollar prize is pay some administrative fees or income taxes. This scam is particularly insidious because, while it is true that lottery winnings are subject to income tax, no legitimate lottery collects income taxes on behalf of the IRS. They either deduct the taxes before awarding the prize, or they pay the entire prize to the winner who is then personally responsible for paying the taxes due on the winnings. And no legitimate lottery requires a winner to pay administrative fees.

4. Skating Away with Your Money. Olympics-related merchandise — particularly apparel — is extremely popular. Unfortunately, many websites are selling counterfeit and poor-quality Olympics apparel and other Olympics merchandise.

If you are interested in Team USA merchandise, go to the official Team USA website, where you can shop safely and securely. As always, whenever you shop online, you should use your credit card rather than your debit card because credit cards give you much greater consumer protection if your information is stolen.

5. Malware Slalom. Many people will be turning to apps for all manner of useful information about the Winter Olympics, and there are many legitimate apps available, including the official PyeongChang 2018 app, which is available at the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. Unfortunately, many other Olympics-related apps appear genuine but are loaded with malware, including keystroke logging malware and ransomware. Many of these tainted apps are found on third-party websites. When downloading apps, stay with authorized stores such as the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store that try to screen for apps containing malware.

6. Social Media Snow Job. Scammers are also turning to social media such as Facebook to send out what purport to be links to photos and videos of amazing Olympic moments, but in truth download malware when the links are clicked. Again, the best course of action is to never click on a link unless you have verified that it is legitimate.

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