It’s almost a year to the day that Twitter was awash with fake accounts impersonating Shane Missler, the lucky winner of $451m in America’s Mega Millions lottery. Account after account claimed to be Shane and each tweet offered to share his new-found fortune with those who retweeted, mentioned or liked.
Some of those tweets went viral and one account gathered 42,000 followers. Which was, ironically, three times the number the real Shane Missler – who wasn’t offering money for likes – had at the time.
There are countless examples of hoaxes going back to the early days of social media and email before that. It’s generally accepted that anything in the news headlines has the potential to lead to hordes of fake social media posts and spam. Especially when money is involved.
Unsurprising then that history should repeat itself with the Northern Ireland couple who won £115m in EuroMillions. A year on from Missler’s win, Twitter is awash once more but this time on our side of the Atlantic.
Surely though, there’s no harm in this?
Well… There probably is.
Cyber criminals, always on the lookout for gullible victims, have been known to use social media to help create ‘mug lists’ of those who were easily taken in by a hoax. Twitter sentiment analysis tools allow them to sift between those who knew a post was fake and those who took the bait. At a click of a button, they have a list of Twitter users they can be confident will be worth the return on investment in a future scam.
I’m not saying that cyber criminals create the fake profiles or the tweets, they don’t need to. A crowd of thrill seekers and pranksters out to impress similarly minded peers will do that job for them. The data generated can then be harvested, analysed and future targets discovered.
Anyone who has engaged with one of these accounts should unlike, un-retweet, delete their reply and be vigilant of unsolicited contact via Twitter or other channels.