In the days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, the Web most likely will be filled with "one-of-a-kind" and "exclusive" football-themed offers, from tickets to the sold-out game to phishing sites playing off Tom Brady's or Eli Manning's popularity. The Web pages may look legitimate and the offers may look real but, as with any major event that draws the attention of millions of people, clever cybercrooks are looking to cash in.
Before you're blindsided by a fake video or open your wallet to buy something that doesn't exist, here are some tips to make sure you browse safely and don't get sidelined by a scam this week.
You're not going to the game
You want to. You wish you were. You know somebody who knows somebody who's going. But you're not.
Remember this sad fact when you open your inbox or come across a Facebook post promising you free last-minute tickets to the Giants versus Patriots battle. Such offers are sure to pop up this week — maybe they even throw in a free hotel room in Indianapolis! — but, sorry, you're not going to the game, and these "free" tickets are anything but.
If you come across an offer for tickets or accommodations or game merchandise, be careful — these are tried and true tactics scammers use year after year to prey on eager fans. Just clicking on one of these alluring links in an email could automatically drop a data-stealing Trojan onto your system. Instead, hold the mouse over the link without clicking; if the URL shown when you "mouseover" the link doesn't match up to the one shown in the email, this is a telltale sign that someone is trying to trick you.
It's really about the commercials
So you made it through the week and avoided getting tackled by a fake ticket offer or any other money-hungry scam. Congratulations. Now it's time for the post-game wrap-up.
What do we love almost as much as the Super Bowl itself? The commercials. This is when ad teams break out their best stuff, and it always works — your friends on Monday will be talking about the new Ferris Bueller Honda spot, or what those crazy Budweiser horses are up to, as much as the game itself.
This post-game excitement creates a perfect environment for scammers looking to capitalize on the public interest in seeing those multimillion-dollar minute-long commercials again. However, if you want to see the commercial replays, make sure you know what you're watching. Fake YouTube videos are a staple in any scammer's arsenal, and they can be difficult to detect, especially when only a thumbnail of the video is embedded in an email, when it's spreading like wildfire around Facebook and when the scammers have used SEO poisoning tactics to boost the fake video's standings in search results.
To steer clear of a fake video that could direct you to a malicious site or annoying survey, don't open YouTube videos in unsolicited links, or even in emails sent from friends. Instead, type in the URL yourself directly to YouTube. This will give you a leg up on the scammers and help keep your computer safe from any number of threats.
Anti-virus software wins the game
It's not glamorous, it doesn't give speeches and it won't do a touchdown dance, but the real winner of the online battle to keep your computer safe is anti-virus software.
Fake videos, spam emails, cunning Trojans embedded in phony Web pages — anti-virus software can detect and tackle all these threats. To put up your strongest defensive line against would-be crooks, spammers and any other Super Bowl malware miscreants, make sure to run strong anti-malware and anti-virus software on your system, as well as on your smartphone, and keep it up to date to make sure it's performing at the top of its game.
Along with anti-virus software, basic common sense on the Web is perhaps the best way to avoid the malware blitz. Be aware of the sites you go to, don't hand over any personal information, be skeptical of unsolicited emails or suspicious-looking offers, and just because an offer seems real or looks real, it doesn't mean it is.