Google Alert Scams

By: Robert Siciliano  |  May 10, 2016

If you want to know the latest on “any topic,” just sign up for Google Alerts. Google will e-mail you notifications of new information coming online. I have Google Alerts for “Home Invasion” “Identity Theft” “Burglary” “Computer Security” and many more.

So what could be so harmful about receiving alerts about topics or people who are famous for being famous or your favorite presidential candidate?

  • A scamster creates a website and inserts popular search terms such as “Kate Middleton” or “Donald Trump.”
  • If you signed up for Donald Trump, you’ll not only receive legitimate alerts from Google, but also links originating from the scammer’s site. You won’t know which is which.
  • These fraudsters have figured out a way to circumvent Google’s security.
  • Clicking on these links could download malware into your computer.

In another example Intel Security’s McAfee does the “Most Dangerous Celebrity” survey based on malicious search results. They then determine which searched celebrity sites produce the most malware.

What can you do?

  • A tell-tale clue of a scam is that when you hover over the link inside your e-mail, the URL doesn’t correlate to the alleged source of the news. If it doesn’t match up, skip it. A scammer’s URL isn’t going to have what appears to be a legitimate news outlet address.
  • Narrow your search down. So if you want the latest in Trump’s polls, type “Donald Trump polls” in the Google Alert field. Otherwise, just leaving it as “Donald Trump” will not only flood your in-box, but it will be much more likely that some of those “alerts” will be fraudulent.
  • Another way to narrow the parameters is to set the alerts for “news,” “blogs,” “best results” and “United States.”
  • Be very suspicious of URLs that do not end in a dot-com, net, org or other familiar suffix. Often, scammy URLs come from foreign countries where the suffix is different, such as “fr” for France or .ru for Russia or .cn for China.
  • If a link appears to be fraudulent, report it to

If you’re signed up for Google Alerts for numerous topics, consider cancelling some of these, especially if it’s a hot topic that makes headlines nearly every day, such as the presidential race—which you’re bound to see anyway simply by visiting a reputable news site.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to discussing  identity theft prevention.

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