The world is no stranger to tragedy. From natural disasters to global pandemics and geopolitical conflicts, we have all witnessed events that shake us to our core. Unfortunately, in the midst of these crises, there are those who seek to exploit our emotions and vulnerabilities for their own gain. Malicious actors and scammers, commonly referred to as “bad actors,” are adept at seizing the opportunity presented by these tragedies to carry out their deceitful schemes. In this article, we’ll explore how these bad actors exploit world tragedy, using real-life examples from 2023 and previous years.

How Bad Actors Exploit World Tragedy

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic was a global tragedy that affected millions of lives. Bad actors wasted no time in exploiting the public’s anxieties and fears for financial gain. They sent phishing emails impersonating health organizations and government agencies. These emails contained malicious links or attachments that, when clicked, could infect a victim’s device with malware or steal sensitive information. The personal information collected could then be used to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit medical identity theft. The information could also be used for other nefarious gain. The pandemic also saw a surge in employment scams, bad actors posing as companies offering remote work, only to run off with sensitive information from hopeful applicants.

Spotting Scams Like This:

    • Be cautious of unsolicited emails and verify the sender’s legitimacy.
    • Check the email addresses and domains carefully for any misspellings or irregularities.
    • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
    • Be wary of job opportunities or offers that may seem “too good to be true” and do proper research to verify the corporation’s legitimacy.

The War in Ukraine

Geopolitical conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, provide fertile ground for bad actors to thrive. During the ongoing conflict, bad actors took advantage of the situation by impersonating humanitarian organizations and exploiting the public’s desire to help those in need. They set up fake donation websites, which siphoned money away from legitimate relief efforts and left victims with a false sense of goodwill.

Spotting Scams Like This:

    • Perform thorough research on organizations before making a donation. Verify their authenticity and legitimacy.
    • Be wary of unsolicited emails seeking donations. If looking to fund a specific charity, visit the website directly rather than clicking on links found in emails.
    • Watch out for “charities” asking you to pay with cash, gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. This can be a red flag, and it should be handled with discretion.

The Maui Fires

Natural disasters like the Maui fires evoke intense emotions and vulnerability among affected communities. Bad actors capitalize on this vulnerability, exploiting the desperation of affected individuals. Scammers often impersonate disaster relief organizations using social media, fake websites, and emails, to solicit donations or offer fake assistance. Even worse, scammers may claim to offer insurance or financial aid to victims in order to obtain personal information or a payment for some fee, then disappear.

Spotting Scams Like This:

    • When moved to offer aid during a time of need, always do the proper research on relief funds and organizations before providing monetary assistance. This not only helps keeps us from getting scammed by impersonators but is also helpful in making sure the funds really go to those in need.
    • If you are the victim of a natural disaster, be wary of bad actors looking to take advantage of your distressing situation and seek assistance from reputable relief organizations.

The War in Israel

The war in Israel has not been immune to such exploitation either. Misinformation campaigns have not only spread fear and discord but have also been used as bait to lure victims into donation scams, as in the case of the previous examples above. They have also been used to spread divisive propaganda with the aim to cause discord among the masses. When tensions run high, people are more likely to make mistakes. Scammers are aware of this, as in the case of the pandemic and other global conflicts.

Spotting Scams Like This:

    • Verify the sources of information before sharing or reacting to it on any platform. Cross-reference news and information from multiple reliable sources.
    • Be wary of messages/posts from social media accounts with no history or a suspicious agenda.
    • Be cautious of urgent requests from suspicious social media accounts. If the sender is seemingly someone you know, but the nature of the message seems odd, always err on the side of caution. Reaching out to the person directly could also alert the individual that their account has been spoofed or hacked.

Exploiting Emotional Vulnerability

Bad actors exploit world tragedies because emotions run high during such events. Fear, empathy, and a desire to help, can cloud judgment. In these moments, critical thinking is often compromised. Scammers prey on these vulnerabilities, using tactics that create a sense of urgency or exploit the fear and uncertainty associated with the crisis.

It is important that we educate ourselves and stay informed about the recent attack vectors that scammers may be using. Often it will include something in the headlines of today’s news to evoke an emotional response from us. By remaining vigilant, we can successfully protect ourselves and those close to us from the likes of bad actors now and as we move into a new year. As seen in the previous examples, bad actors will stop at nothing to compromise their targets. We should never underestimate the lengths they will go to get what they want.

Written by:
Josten Peña
Human Risk Analyst for Social-Engineer, LLC