Muscat: Residents in Oman are being urged to check the addresses of the sites they visit, to avoid having their personal information stolen by online scammers and cyber blackmailers.
Colloquially called ‘typosquatting,’ this practice sees online criminals buy up domain names that are very similar to those of popular websites, as they know people will visit them when they invariably make typos while entering the names of the websites they usually visit. So while you might be looking at Facebook or Google.com, chances are you’re actually on an exact copy, entitled Facebokk or Goggle.
“Nowadays, it is very easy to make copies of genuine websites and people get trapped by these fake sites,” warned Jasim Al Balushi, deputy head of Education and Professional Development at the Caledonian College. “My advice is to consult expert people and make sure that these sites are genuine. This happened to my friend who was asked to send money to a fake PayPal account and was cheated out of OMR490.
“The harm though can far exceed just this amount, especially when you get fake websites posting ads for expensive items, such as cars or luxury goods, which people will sometimes want because of the prestige value, but you have to be careful about this,” he added. “If people run into problems on genuine sites like eBay, then what about the dangers of fake ones?”
Eliot Wright, director of Pathway Programmes at Muscat University, also had a similar opinion.
“What you type into your search engines needs to be meticulous, and if you feel that the website you arrive at isn’t like the genuine one, then don’t pursue it any further,” he explained. “When things come up and I am not directed to the correct website, I just go back and do a proper search so you need be very thorough when you work online.
Majid Al Sinani, systems engineer at The Research Council, told the Times of Oman of how scammers use such sites to steal people’s personal details.
“When you visit unknown URLs, they sometimes expose your data,” he explained. “The data on your machine will be transferred via that URL and the destination is an unknown machine, so your photos, your videos, your data, will be transferred without your knowledge. There is nothing you can do at that point because your data is now on the internet and out of your control. Other people can download it and share it, because when it comes onto the internet, you cannot control anything.”
“Scammers change only a letter in the name of the website and this will look exactly like the real one, but some of the people don’t notice this, and they ask you for your personal information,” added Al Sinani. “Whatever accounts are controlled by your email ID are now gone.”
Al Shinani also revealed just how scammers were able to gain access to your data.
“For example, they will try to get your date of birth, because when you forget your password, one of the first security questions you are asked is your birthday, so online scammers will use this to gain control of your email ID,” he added. “Some of these sites ask you for your personal address, or your credit card numbers, and they use this for their own needs.
“They steal and collect these details and then sell them on the black market,” said Al Sinani.
“They use these for cyber blackmail, and they use it to register themselves on questionable websites. They will use your e-mail ID so that when they are caught on these sites, they can blame it on you.”
“Please don’t visit unknown sites on the internet. Check if the site has a certificate;, see if there are tools to protect you. See if your antivirus and firewalls are up to date. Please consult someone who knows about these things,” he added.