Beware of the Latest Digital Spam Traps

As long as the Internet is around, scammers will try to make money off it. The technology might change, but the techniques remain largely the same: scammers will try to fool you into visiting a site you shouldn't visit, or turning over your credit card information when you shouldn't. And they'll try to target as many people as possible. When you hear terms like "likejacking," "sock puppets," 'QR code spam," and "junk apps," remember that it's just a new face on some pretty old tricks.

Likejacking. This is a Facebook-based scam that starts with the victim clicking on an attractive link to an intriguing headline or video. That link leads to bogus surveys or ad pages, which tricks the user into "liking" them (they're given the choice of clicking "Like" or "Continue," but both options result in a "Like"). That "Like" is then posted to the victim's Wall, so that all their friends can be tempted into falling for the same scam. It's essentially a twist on the old spam routine where an email from a friend ends up being a scam perpetrated by someone who stole your friend's email address.

Sock puppets are just the 21st century version of people pretending to be someone they aren't. If a commenter on a blog or message board seems a little too passionate about promoting (or defending) a particular company, product, or person, that commenter might just be a sock puppet—a fake person, often invented by unethical PR firms or people who want to influence public opinion without appearing to do so.

QR code spam. Just when people finally trained themselves to be suspicious of random links in their email, along come QR codes—which are essentially random links disguised as funny little pixellated black-and-white squares. And they're everywhere: in advertisements, on billboards, in magazines. Snap a photo of the QR code with your smartphone and it will send you to a URL or download a coupon or...well, here's the thing. There's no way of knowing where a QR code will send you, or what it will do to your phone, simply from looking at it. The overwhelming majority of QR codes are legitimate, and an interesting way for companies to communicate with the public. But malicious QR codes are out there, and if they're like any other type of spam we've ever seen, they will only proliferate.

Junk apps. These have started to appear in the Android Market. A junk app is essentially a piece of software that just exists in order to display ads. If you've ever stumbled on a web page or a blog that's nothing more than random keywords and a bunch of ads for diet pills or "male enhancement" products, the junk app will feel pretty familiar. They're both examples of adware masquerading as content.

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