Ice Bucket Challenge being used for scams, security company warns
Everyone is enamored by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, including cyber-criminals.
August 25, 2014

They’re taking advantage of people’s desire to see others get doused with a bucket of ice water, especially the celebrities who are getting involved. Many are rounding up videos of attempts gone awry.

The spate of videos is part of the wildly popular viral campaign to raise money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive degenerative disease of brain and spinal cord nerve cells also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The stunt raises money by asking people who are challenged in a seemingly never-ending chain of friends, relatives, co-workers and celebrities to dump ice water on their head. They then can either accept the dare within 24 hours, make a donation to an ALS charity or both.

Internet scammers are sending e-mails with titles that promise amazing videos of the Ice Bucket Challenge, but they’re actually attempts to embed spyware and other data-stealing programs in your computer, according to the Ohio-based software security company ThirtySeven4.

The con artists often include links to a page that requires you to enter personal information, which they then sell and distribute. Or they send you an attachment to open that will load malware onto your computer allowing direct access to your personal data and other information that could lead to identity theft.

“Go ahead and click on this attachment to the latest video or WAV file and boom, you’re hit,” ThirtySeven4 owner Steven Sundermeier told the Free Press.

He added that other currently popular con-generated click-bait includes videos of actor-comedian Robin Williams’ last good-bye and Ebola-related links.

Another concern is scammers creating look-alike ALS Association charitable-contribution pages that have nothing to do with the real not-for-profit.

“A hacker can set up a fake foundation Web page and have people donate to this page. We saw this with the Haitian earthquakes,” Sundermeier said. “These are popular topics, so you’ll see cyber-criminals take advantage of this trend.”

He said among the best ways to avoid getting scammed is to never allow software from an unknown source to be installed on your computer. Donate by typing in the charity’s URL into your browser yourself.

The ALS Association could not be reached for comment.

Lisa Dilg, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau of Detroit and Eastern Michigan, suggested vetting a charity by seeing if it’s registered with the state, refraining from contributing to charities you’ve never heard of, not contributing through unsolicited spam messages, and hovering over a link to see its true Web address.

Kristi Hunt, 48, of White Lake is one of the thousands who’ve participated in the ALS campaign. The internet sales specialist at Joe Lunghamer Chevrolet in Waterford organized about 30 co-workers to get slammed with ice water. Hunt is repulsed by the con.

“It’s terrible that there are people out there who take advantage and ruin such a good thing,” she said. “The person who created this has done such a good job in bringing awareness to this and yes, I enjoy watching other people do it. But knowing there’s somebody out there trying to ruin the experience of watching people do it, I think it’s terrible.”