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FIFA World Cup: Be wary of these tech scams

A primer on spotting scams and staying penalty-free during this year’s Fifa World Cup football tournament

People gather for photos around the World Cup countdown clock in Doha
People gather for photos around the World Cup countdown clock in Doha (AFP)

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On 20 November, the men’s football World Cup kicks off in Qatar and will be one of the most-watched sporting events of at least the last four years.

An event with this level of popularity and interest also attracts fraudsters and cyber criminals looking to capitalize on fans’ excitement. Here’s how to spot these scams and stay penalty free during this year’s tournament.

New Cup, who’s this?

Phishing is a tool that cybercriminals have used for years now. Most of us are familiar with the telltale signs—misspelled words, poor grammar, and a sender email whose email address makes no sense or whose phone number is unknown. But excitement and anticipation can cloud our judgement. What football fan wouldn’t be tempted to win a free trip to see their home team participate in the ultimate tournament? Cybercriminals are betting that this excitement will cloud fans’ judgement, leading them to click on nefarious links that ultimately download malware or steal personal information.

It's important to realize that these messages can come via a variety of channels, including email, text messages, (also known as smishing) and other messaging channels like WhatsApp and Telegram. No matter what the source is, it’s essential to remain vigilant and pause to think before clicking links or giving out personal or banking information.

Real money for fake tickets

Ticket fraud is when someone advertises tickets for sale, usually through a website or message board, collects the payment and then disappears, without the buyer ever receiving the ticket.

The World Cup is a prime (and lucrative) target for this type of scam with fans willing to pay thousands of dollars to see their teams compete. Chances are most people have their tickets firmly in hand (or digital wallet) by now, but if you’re planning to try a last-minute trip, beware of this scam and make sure that you’re using a legitimate, reputable ticket broker. To be perfectly safe, stick with well-known ticket brokers and those who offer consumer protection. Also beware of sites that don’t accept debit or credit cards and only accept payment in the form of bitcoin or wire transfers such as the one on the fake ticket site below:

The red box on the right image shows that the ticket site accepts payment via Bitcoin.
The red box on the right image shows that the ticket site accepts payment via Bitcoin.

The red box on the right image shows that the ticket site accepts payment via Bitcoin.

Other red flags to look out for are websites which ask you to contact them to make payment and the only contact information is via WhatsApp.

Streaming the matches

Let’s be realistic—most of us are going to have to settle for watching the World Cup from the comfort of our own home, or the pub down the street. If you’re watching the tournament online, be sure that you’re using a legitimate streaming service. A quick Google of “FIFA World Cup 2022 Official Streaming” along with your country should get you the information you need to safely watch the event through official channels. The FIFA site itself is also a good source of information.

Illegal streaming sites usually contain deceptive ads and malware which can cause harm to your device.

Don’t get taken to the bank

In countries or regions where sports betting is legal, the 2022 World Cup is expected to drive an increase in activity. There’s no shortage of things to bet on, from a simple win/loss to the exact minute a goal will be scored by a particular player. Everything is subject to wager.

As with our previous examples, this increase in legitimate gambling brings with it an increase in deceptive activity. Online betting scams often start when users are directed to or search for gambling site and end up on a fraudulent one. After placing their bets and winning, users realize that while they may have “won” money, they are unable to withdraw it and are even sometimes asked to deposit even more money to make winnings available, and even then, they still won’t be. By the end of this process, the bettor has lost all their initial money (and then some, potentially) as well as any personal information they shared on the site.

Like other scams, users should be wary of sites that look hastily put together or are riddled with errors. Your best bet (yes, again, pun intended) is to look for an established online service that is approved by your government or region’s gaming commission. Finally, reading the fine print on incentives or bonuses is always a good idea. If something sounds too good to be true, it’s best to double check.

Keep that connection Secure

Using a free public Wi-Fi connection is risky. User data on these networks is unprotected, which makes it vulnerable to cyber criminals. Whether you’re traveling to Qatar for a match or watching them with friends at your favorite pub, if you’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi connection, make sure you use a trusted VPN connection.

Christy Crimmins and Oliver Devane are with McAfee Labs. The views expressed are those of the authors.

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