June 7, 2005: At the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” premiere, Pitt and Jolie pose with producer Arnon Milchan (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo) Vicki Hyman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The news that actor Angelina Jolie filed for divorce, looking to end her marriage to actor Brad Pitt, got tremendous attention earlier this week.
And as with many big celebrity stories, this one came with a scam. We’re willing to be there are more to come.
When the “Brangelina” breakup news hit, it was hard to avoid on social media. As we in the news biz say, it went viral.
Links to stories with dramatic headlines dominated social media.
And lots of people clicked to learn more.
But then, the story changed. Angelina Jolie was dead, headlines said. Suicide.
It wasn’t true, but that didn’t stop people from clicking and sharing, further spreading the hoax.
Scams based on the purported death of Jolie aren’t new.
In August, a message with the headline “CNN Video Footage: Angelina Jolie Says Goodbye to Her Fans and to Brad Pitt Before Doing This Suicidal” spread all over Facebook, according to Snopes.com, a website dedicated to revealing whether rumors are true or false.
And of course, this one was false, and no such “Doing This Suicidal” video existed.
This time around, the headlines said Jolie committed suicide because of heartache over the divorce.
Some of the links even appeared to come from reputable news sites, according to a report on Komando.com, the website of radio host and digital expert Kim Komando.
The report said once someone clicked, they were “directed to a fake page designed to steal their personal information.”
CELEBRITY CLICK BAIT SCAMS
Scams that use celebrity names to get your attention are nothing new, and they’re quite common.
Just this month, Sylvester Stallone and Jaden Smith, the son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and everyone’s favorite playboy, Hugh Hefner, were also targets of the death hoax.
Earlier this year, it was actors Jack Black and Robert Redford, wrestler John Cena, And others.
So what happened if you clicked?
Like the Jolie fakery, celebrity click bait scams usually follow the same modus operandi.
“A salacious Facebook post, typically claiming that someone famous has passed away, is used to lure users into giving a scammy app permission to view and/or post to their Facebook page,” Snopes said of the August scam about Jolie. “This ensures that the scam circulates on social media and allows the site to scrape users’ personal information.”
Exactly what happens to your personal information next is unclear.
Your name and contact information could be used for future scams, such as those in which con artists impersonate financial institutions or companies you do business with.
In these, the scammers send emails that look like they’re coming from a trusted source. They say you need to update your account information. The email provides a link that leads to a fake website that looks an awful lot like the real thing.
There, they say you need to input information, and they hope you’ll share your account numbers, passwords and other personal information like your Social Security number, your date of birth and address.
Armed with all that data, a scammer could open credit cards accounts and take loans in your name. And more.
Other times, you could be fooled into clicking on a story and you’ll end up on a website that quietly installs malware onto your computer. The malware could give the thieves access to your hard drive or monitor what you type on your keyboard so they can steal your logins and passwords.
HOW TO STEER CLEAR
Protecting yourself from this kind of scam can be tricky.
If you use social media, you’re sure to see friends sharing and liking a host of stories. Don’t give a link credibility just because your friend has.
Before you click, do some checking.
First, examine the link to see if it’s from a reputable source or if there are signs it could be an impersonator. It’s common for scammers to create links that look like they’re coming from a trustworthy source. They’ll use part of a real organization’s name or change a couple of characters in the name to try to fool you.
If you do click, take a look at the actual URL for the page you’ve been taken to. Be sure it’s for a reputable site. If you’re not sure, close your browser.
If you’re unsure, don’t click. If you really want to read whatever the news your friends are crowing about, open a new browser and search for the item. Use your judgment before clicking on any links that come up.
Whatever you do, don’t fill out any forms that a site insists you must complete to have access to the story — unless you know it’s a reputable site.
And for the record, no reputable site will ask for your Social Security number or other private account information, unless, of course, it’s a subscription site.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.