4 Swine Flu Scams Making the Rounds
From bogus influenza medication to useless prevention products, here are the latest criminal schemes using H1N1 headlines to grab attention
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
October 28, 2009 — CSO —
The words "swine flu" had barely been uttered last spring when spammers and malware authors, hoping to take advantage of fears and curiosity about the virus, began devising ways to trick people with clever subject lines and fake web sites. In April, only days after officials began to talk about the virus, officially known as H1N1, researchers with several security firms reported spam relating to the virus already accounted for 4 percent of all unwanted emails.
More than six months later, H1N1 has indeed spread to large numbers of people around the world. So have related scams and schemes cooked up by the bad guys, either looking to infect your computer, steal your credit card information or sell you phony products. Here, we detail some of the most common lines being used online lately.
For expert advice on business continuity in the face of the pandemic, check out CSO's Swine Flu (H1N1) Business Continuity Planning Guide
Treat swine flu virus! Buy Tamiflu without a prescription
Researchers at McAfee Labs have found that a great deal of the spam ending up in inboxes lately has a subject line that offers Tamiflu, a prescription-only medication that can stop influenza from further mutating in the early stages of the virus, without a prescription. According to McAfee Labs lead researcher Adam Wosotowsky, the link offering Tamiflu usually directs users back to an alleged Canadian pharmaceutical site that likely sells fake products. In fact, spam that advertises websites for "Canadian pharmaceuticals" accounted for more than 70 percent of global spam volume in September, according to McAfee analysis.
In the past few weeks, fraudulent offers of so-called swine flu treatments and medications have become so widespread that the FDA and the FTC has issued warnings to consumers to avoid them. Earlier this month, the two agencies released a joint warning letter to one website offering fraudulent H1N1 flu supplements. The FDA also maintains a list of fraudulent 2009 H1N1 influenza products so consumers can check out what snake oil is being sold claiming to cure or prevent the virus.
"Products that are offered for sale with claims to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus must be carefully evaluated," said Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., in a statement. "Unless these products are proven to be safe and effective for the claims that are made, it is not known whether they will prevent the transmission of the virus or offer effective remedies against infection. Furthermore, they can make matters worse by providing consumers with a false sense of protection."