• Shona McCarthy

WARNING: Online Event Cyber Crime!

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

(Image use with permission.) Now that many festivals and events are being moved online as streaming events, a new form of online scam has come to exist. Read on to learn how to protect yourself.

_~- MY STORY -~_ I logged on to Facebook and found a festival I wanted to see online was about to start. I was so excited! So I clicked through to the event page and looked for how I would view it. What I found were a massive amount of comments in the Discussion area of the page containing what looked like many links to the official event live streaming. Since I couldn't see any other link on the event page showing me where to go, I clicked the links in the comments. That the comments seemed to come from many different people didn't stop me, since I didn't want to miss the start of the event. I found that the links opened up a page that seemed to be primed to show the event. But when I click play it asks me to sign up! So I franticly do, not wanting to miss the festival! A strange page comes up asking me to put in my credit card details. It was at this point that things started to look strange to me. The page wasn't looking so professional as I would have thought it should for a true and proper streaming service. But I'm so eager to see the event! So I put in my details only to find that I'm in a really cheap, nasty looking streaming service that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the event at all. I go back to the Facebook event page and click the links in the other comments, since I notice that the URLs aren't all the same. I notice that they seem to open up to different streaming services. But then I think, "Oh, one service mustn't be enough to let them stream the whole event. I've seen this happen at streaming events before. So, okay." and I supposed that maybe I had arrived too late for the first few sessions. But then, as I went down I started to notice that the streaming pages became increasingly questionable in appearance. The spelling of the event became increasingly wrong.

Then I noticed that when I looked at the accounts of the people who had left those links, they seemed to have nothing to do with the actual event, many of them were in a totally different place from the event, and many of their accounts seemed to have been built very recently. Then I realised my worst fears were confirmed. I had been scammed and the scammers had my credit card details!

Once I realised this, I contacted my bank as quickly as I could and told them about what happened. They were able to cancel my card and send me a new one. Then I began to report the event and the man who seemed to be running it to Facebook as a potential scam. I also posted publicly to lower the odds that anyone else would make the same mistake that I did. With the problem resolved, I went to sleep. When I awoke I received a notification informing me that the event had run and the video was published to Facebook.

It seems that the event may have been real while the comment section had been taken over by scammers. This was honestly the first time I had seen such a thing happen. Based on my experiences, I can tell you ways that problems like these could be avoided in the future. Though, even then, the footage seems to be too heavily edited to be a live event. So, I find I am still somewhat sceptical. But since this was posted to Facebook with no additional sign-up, it is safe for viewing whatever the truth is.

(It's very common for online scammers to pretend to be someone they're not.) _~- WHEN YOU RUN AN EVENT -~_ When you run a live streaming event on Facebook, it is important to include information for your viewers on how they will view the event on the day. Ideally, you would have a direct link to the event itself, but this may not always be possible. So the link to the Facebook or Youtube page where the event will be posted will make a good stand-in. If you provide clear and direct instructions to your visitors on how they can attend your online event, this makes it much harder for hackers to post false links. Your guests will see that their information contradicts the information from you and immediately realise it is false. In fact, if you post the information, your event probably won't attract hackers, since they will realise that your guests probably won't be fooled. You may also wish to post a warning to your guests, telling them to only click on links from you or other administrators for your Facebook event. Many people may be unaware of this new form of scam. I am ordinarily very good at spotting online scams, but this one fooled me partly because events are so time sensitive, and partly because live-streaming events are a relatively new concept. _~- WHEN YOU ATTEND EVENTS -~_ 1. Check who is running the event. If you are very clear on who is running the event and who isn't. When someone contacts you about an event, you can make decisions about whether or not they seem trustworthy. Do they really have all the connections and authority that they claim? Are they living where they should be? If things are smelling fishy, they probably are.

2. Google the name of the streaming service plus the word "scam" to see whether or not they are legitimate. Many times, a scam website has been reported online before and you'll be able to read what others have to say about it.

3. Don't hand over your credit card details in the moment. If you needed to sign up for a special account or pay a special fee for the event, the true owners of the event wouldn't wait till the last moment to tell you. They know that sign-up will take time and make you late for the event if they wait too long. Most event planners will understand that people can't all be expected to buy their tickets just as the event is starting. So it is very unlikely that they would spring such a thing on you last minute.

4. If you suspect you've been scammed, contact your bank immediately. Your bank should be able to stop the scammers from emptying your bank account. You want to do this quickly so that the scammers don't have the time to act. Once they have taken your money, it is very hard if not impossible for your bank to get it back for you, unfortunately.

5. Familiarise yourself with how scams often work. Online scams often have common features like questionable URL referrals, poor spelling or bait-and-switch tactics. If you get to know scams well, you'll be able to keep yourself safer.

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