Hurricane Sandy could cause big mess in cyber space too

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With Hurricane Sandy on a collision course with the Northeast, cyber crooks are likely to take advantage of the historic storm to make a quick buck or steal personal information from the unsuspecting.

Like with most major news events, users should be on the lookout for legitimate-looking scams that will use the hurricane's mainstream allure to dupe them.

"If the past repeats itself, Facebook postings, tweets, emails, and websites claiming to have exclusive video or pleading for donations for disaster relief efforts will appear shortly after the storm hits," security company Avast warned in a Monday blog post. "These messages often include malicious code that attempt to infect computers with viruses, spyware, or trojan horses."

Online vandals also have been known to bait users through a technique known as black-hat search engine optimization (SEO), in which search results are poisoned so the attackers' sites appear near the top of rankings.

Natural disasters lend a particularly lucrative hand to cyber criminals because many users want to make donations to victims. As such, they can be easily tricked into giving their money away to bogus sites that appear to be charities, such as the American Red Cross. This was a common ruse following Hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami.

Experts advise people to check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure they are contributing to a legitimate cause.

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