Every year, a fervor comes across the land as college basketball takes center stage during March Madness. Fans eager to get a seat at the Final Four games fight for tickets. Gamblers place their bets. And everyone is checking scores, whether in a cubicle or at a bus stop. It’s an exciting time of year, with some high stakes for everyone—including cybercriminals. With so much March Madness on the mind and bet money exchanging hands, scammers are eager to get a piece of the pie. Find out how to spot their tricks, and enjoy the season safely.
Super fans are eager to get to the games to see all the action in person. But tickets for these games are hot property, especially as various schools progress through the tournament. Unfortunately, fraudulent “ticket sellers” will try to bilk customers out of their hard-earned cash through any number of ploys, including pop-up ads, email offers, fake online brokers, or by placing false online classifieds on sites like Craigslist.
If you’re trying to buy a ticket to a March Madness game, or any major event, only go through legitimate ticket brokers (you can search the Better Business Bureau database to find one). Also be wary of any enticing offers you get via email or popups. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (and may actually be a scam to get your passwords, deploy malware, or steal financial info). And when you are purchasing tickets and processing payment, verify that you are on a secure site (the URL will start with https://).
When a major event or news item breaks, cybercriminals know most people log online to read more about it. During March Madness, the compulsive checking of scores, brackets, and fantasy teams brings plenty of opportunities for SEO poisoning. This is a technique where hackers create malicious websites that harbor malware. They then manipulate search rankings so that these are the sites that pop up first when you search for a certain key word or phrase. When you click on these links, your computer becomes infected, giving cybercriminals access to your personal info and the ability to deploy viruses or activate your computer as a zombie drone in a botnet.
Avoid falling victim to this trick by only checking scores on legitimate sites, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association site (www.ncaa.com). You should also manually type the URL directly into your browser. (Some phishing emails may encourage you to “click here” on a link for latest scores, but misdirect you to an infected site).
Betting is a huge business during March Madness—an estimated $12 billion was wagered last year. Many of these bets are placed online, making it a major cash cow for hackers. Gullible gamblers may be suckered into giving credit card information to fraudulent betting websites promising unusually high returns, after which hackers can make off with your financial info, drain your accounts, or open lines of credit in your name.
Online gambling isn’t technically legal in the U.S., so it’s best to avoid risking losing your bet—and your financial reputation. Only gamble by placing bets in casinos, or in the office bracket.