Neville Borg, 31, woke up on a Sunday morning to a surreal situation. He was inundated by Facebook messages from friends asking whether he had just made a shit ton of money by cracking an algorithm.
His friends were reacting to an article shared on Facebook titled: “Grad Student Cracks Algorithm – the first lucrative graduate project out of UOM”. The article was illustrated with a photo of Neville and a screenshot of what appeared to be his BOV mobile banking account.
“It turns out some scammer stole that photo and is using it for some fraudulent phishing article (allegedly) on behalf of a casino chain called Zodiac Casinos,” Neville told Lovin Malta.
Phishing is defined by Google as “the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers”. Sounds scary? That’s because it probably is. And the detail that is now being seen with some of these fake stories shows that the people behind them are getting smarter and their intentions more sinister.
The article is disguised as a Yahoo Lifestyle article and is being shared as a sponsored post on Facebook. The post is shared by small page called Bright Side News and captioned with netnews.com.mt, presumably to give it more local credibility. In other words, to make more people click.
“At first I found it hilarious and had a good laugh about it. But now it’s quite annoying given the post hasn’t been taken down and trying to have it removed is turning into a bureaucratic black hole.”
The photo of Neville wasn’t stolen from his Facebook page but from a page on the website of Valletta 2018, where he works. Needless to say, his job doesn’t include any lucrative algorithmic cracking.
“I contacted the police (the Cyber Crime Unit) to figure out what I’m meant to do and to whom to direct my complaint. To say they weren’t very helpful is putting it mildly – they basically said that all I can do is report it to Facebook/Yahoo and hope for the best,” says Neville.
He reported Bright Side News and Zodiac Casinos to Facebook. He also reported the article to Yahoo. But he hasn’t heard anything back, aside from the standard “Thank you for your report, we are sorry you feel aggrieved.”
“My reports are presumably lost somewhere in cyberspace as we speak. In the meantime, people are still getting in touch with me asking about the long-term prospects of my casino hacking career choice.”
“It’s very surreal. At first I found it hilarious and had a good laugh about it. I also put up a post on my Facebook page to that effect. But now it’s quite annoying given the post hasn’t been taken down and trying to have it removed is turning into a bureaucratic black hole.”
“I feel slightly violated and I kind of wish there was some sort of lesson that I could draw from this experience. But there isn’t anything I could have done to prevent it.”
“I feel slightly violated and I kind of wish there was some sort of lesson that I could draw from this experience. But there isn’t anything I could have done to prevent it,” he says, pointing out again that the photo was originally uploaded for an article about a conference he helped organised for Valletta 2018.
Neville has now also spoken to Bank of Valletta in the hope that their clout as a banking institution helps to get the post removed.
“They seemed fairly responsive so maybe that will help in some way,” he said.
According to its website, Zodiac Casino is licensed with the Malta Gaming Authority. Lovin Malta has written to the authority to see whether the case is being investigated and any action will be taken. Lovin Malta has also written to Zodiac Casino for comment.
Despite this incident, Neville is still upbeat about sharing knowledge/information online and spends much of his free time working to do so with Wikimedia Community Malta.
But as Neville’s face continues to circulate the internet – possibly putting his Facebook friends in danger of their information being stolen – the story serves as a reminder of the dangers of fake news and the difficulties in tackling it.
Using photos of real people and brand names like BOV, Burger King or McDonald’s, it’s no surprise people keep falling for these scams. And the consequences are as yet unclear. What is sure is that someone is benefitting unfairly from these fake articles and they need to be stopped.