The breaking news that deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed has been spreading across the world this morning (Oct. 20), and like any captivating story, it's likely to spur opportunistic online scammers into action.
According to several reports, Gadhafi died just after 4:00 p.m. (EET) after a violent attack near his hometown of Sirte. His bloodied body was loaded on top of a vehicle and driven to Misrata, where it was surrounded by a crowd chanting, "The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain," The Associated Press reported.
Gruesome video footage on Al Jazeera shows what appears to be Gadhafi's body, either wounded or dead, lying in the street. By all accounts, this video is real, and watching it from Al Jazeera's official website will not harm your computer. But there are sure to be hundreds of fraudulent Web pages popping up that aren't nearly as safe.
Online scammers know that videos and pictures, especially if they're "exclusive," have an amazing power to lure in people desperate for immediate results. Phony Web pages promising never-before-seen videos appeared following the death of Osama Bin Laden, and they are nearly guaranteed to show up now.
The cybercrime technique of SEO poisoning allows crooks to rig search engines to display their malicious Web pages at the top of the results for a particular topic. In this case, searches for "Gadhafi," or "Gadhafi killed," already display close to 6,000 articles and nearly 3 million images. But just because a picture or video is in the top results does not automatically mean it is safe to click. Check the website; if it's a "news" source you've never heard of, avoid it and go instead to a legitimate news website.
The same advice goes for Facebook and Twitter. Pictures and videos of Gadhafi's death are sure to fly around the social networks today, but just because a link comes from a friend, it does not mean it's safe to click. Facebook scams, from ones claiming to have exclusive footage of the Japan tsunami to ones promising something as harmless as free pizza, are almost always set up hijack a person's news feed and spread to that victim's entire list of friends. Again, exercise some restraint: instead of immediately clicking on a link to what could be a video or picture of Gadhafi, pause for a second and go to a reputable source.