When Wikipedia goes dark tomorrow (Jan. 18) to protest the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Internet scammers and crooks are bound to fill the void.
When a news story grabs worldwide attention, especially one as polarizing as SOPA, which experts say could irreparably alter the Internet as we know it, right behind the pundit and the endless media coverage lurks the online scammer, eager to prey on the hordes of unsuspecting Web surfers looking for up-to-the-minute information.
It's happened with the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi and countless other stories: When there's interest, scammers launch into action with fake websites, "exclusive" malware-laden videos, and a host of other tricks.
Expect the same tomorrow. Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing have announced they will take their sites offline tomorrow, but opportunistic crooks are sure to spread phony messages, likely through Facebook and Twitter, with "exclusive" offers to access the protesting sites. Or, in an appeal to supporters, scammers may create fake donation websites or fraudulent email campaigns that attempt to harvest people's personal details.
To help keep your computer and your wallet in the clear, be very skeptical about any Wikipedia-related emails or links you see tomorrow. The site will be offline all day, and no link, no matter how safe it looks, will get you there. Also make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date; after basic common sense, a strong threat-detection program may be your best line of defense.