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by Sid Kirchheimer, From the AARP Bulletin Print Edition, April 1, 2009
E-mails promising Viagra discounts or dates with Russian models used to be the preferred way to get personal financial information from recipients. Now hackers have devised an ingenious way to unleash an identity-stealing computer virus from about the last place you’d expect an online attack: a parking lot.
Scammers place phony parking tickets on cars, which direct their owners to an “official” website that claims to have photos of the alleged violation. Once they go to the website, victims inadvertently download a nasty virus that can quickly cost them plenty.
Several drivers in Grand Forks, N.D., found tickets on cars they had parked at a shopping mall, hospital, grocery store or college campus. Some went to the designated website—and their computers were compromised.
“This very clever ploy bridges the [real] world with the virtual world, and I fear we’ll be seeing more of these types of attacks in the future,” says Lenny Zeltser, a computer security expert who uncovered the scam after a former student who lives in Grand Forks told him about a phony parking ticket.
After analyzing the virus website, Zeltser found that its potential dangers include:
Thus far, the parking ticket ploy has reportedly occurred only in Grand Forks, but Zeltser believes the scam will spread. Unlike other malware attacks, it doesn’t depend on you to open a corrupted e-mail sent by a stranger. Instead, it provides bait to lead you right to the virus, a gambit that he says “can be very lucrative for hackers.” How can you protect yourself?
To learn more about online security, visit www.staysafeonline.org or www.onguardonline.gov. Report suspicious e-mails or websites to www.ic3.gov, and identity theft attempts to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of “Scam-Proof Your Life” (AARP Books/Sterling).
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