The summer of 2014 may become known as the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The Ice Bucket Challenge, as we all know by now, is a fundraising activity to support the fight against amyotrophic sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
People have a bucket of ice-cold water dumped on their heads and then challenge others to do the same thing. If the person challenged chooses not to do so, he or she is supposed to donate $100 to the ALS Association. Paying the money rather than dumping the water was the option recently chosen by President Obama when he was challenged by 86-year-old Ethel Kennedy.
However, many people are choosing to have themselves doused with buckets of icy water. Among the thousands of people who have been drenched and recorded their ordeals on video are celebrities including David Beckham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kate Moss, Tina Fey, Naomi Campbell, Justin Bieber, LeBron James, Weird Al Yankovic, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, George W. Bush and Kermit the Frog. Many people have chosen to both contribute money for ALS research as well as get soaked, and since the campaign began in late spring, the ALS Association has received close to $80 million in donations.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
Scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, are always ready to capitalize on whatever is capturing the public's imagination. They have been sending e-mails, text messages and Facebook postings with links that tout enticing videos of popular celebrities taking part in the challenge. Unfortunately, in many instances, if you click on these links, you will download keystroke-logging malware that will steal all of the information from your computer or portable device, including credit card information, Social Security information, online banking information and passwords, which can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.
And don't think that if you have protected your computer, laptop, smartphone or other portable electronic device with the latest security software that you are safe. Although it is critically important to keep all of your electronic devices protected with anti-malware software and anti-virus software, the best security software is always at least 30 days behind the latest malware and virus strains.
Things aren't as bad as you think.
They are far worse.
Many people who would never think of clicking on links coming to them in an obvious spam e-mail or text message will trust a link contained in an e-mail, text message or Facebook post from a friend, someone they trust. But trust me, you can't trust anyone.
Whenever you receive an e-mail, text message or Facebook posting, you can never be sure who actually sent it. It is a simple task for a scam artist (remember, they are skilled artists) to hijack your trusted friend's e-mail account, phone or Facebook account in order to send tainted links that will appear to come from a trusted source.
In 2008, Sarah Palin had her e-mail account hacked and taken over by someone who merely had to answer her security question to change her password. Palin's security question was "Where did I meet my husband?" The answer of Wasilla High School was easily obtained on Wikipedia by the hacker. You may think that your personal information is not as readily available online as Palin's, and you would be right. But you would also be surprised at how much personal information about you is available online. Often, we are the culprit, as many of us put too much information on social media, where it can be misused by scam artists and identity thieves.
A quick tip: Make nonsensical answers to your security questions. For example, if you use a security question asking what your favorite color is, make the answer "seven." No one will guess it, and it is just ridiculous enough for you to remember.
So if you are looking for videos of celebrities taking the Ice Bucket Challenge, stick to websites that you know are legitimate, such as USA TODAY.
Another Ice Bucket Challenge scam involves phony charities set up by scammers to steal your charitable contributions. Scammers have been busy setting up phony ALS charities and soliciting for them online and through telemarketing.
Once again, whenever you get a solicitation either by phone, text, e-mail or social media, you can never be sure if it is legitimate. In addition, many phony charities have names that are quite similar to legitimate charities. The first thing you should do before making any charitable contribution is to check out the charity at charitynavigator.org. You can find out whether or not the charity is legitimate, as well as how much of your contribution actually goes toward charitable purposes and how much is for administrative costs. Once you have ascertained that a charity is legitimate, go online to the charity's website to make your contribution directly. In the case of the ALS Association, its website is alsa.org.
Steve Weisman is a lawyer, a professor at Bentley University and one of the country's leading experts in scams and identity theft. He writes the blog scamicide.com, where he provides daily update information about the latest scams. His new book is Identity Theft Alert.