Fad Diet Ads Online Open the Door for Cybercriminals

Fad diets have tempted people throughout history. At the turn of the 20th century, the Tapeworm Diet was the trend of the day. It’s exactly what it sounds like—ingesting tapeworms. The only problem? They grow to 25 feet long and cause seizures. In the 1920s, doctors prescribed cigarettes for weight loss. Celebrities, like Elvis, used to rely on the Sleeping Beauty Diet: you can’t eat if you’re asleep. Genius. We must’ve come far since those dark ages, right?

The truth is, today, people still take many risks for beauty and health’s sake. Fad diets can not only sabotage your body, but can even endanger your online security.

Let me explain. We’ve all seen headlines like: “The Secret to Shedding 20 Pounds in 20 Days” and “The Magic Diet Pill That Melts Fat.” What many might not know is that cybercriminals are getting savvier at exploiting consumer search habits. Even realistic information can be a veil for threats. With diet, health, and fitness programs proving a hot topic as we head into summer, phony weight loss ads may lead people into digital traps.

McAfee commissioned a survey to better understand these dangers—and the data was revealing. For U.S. individuals between the ages of 21 and 54, 61% have clicked on a diet-related online ad. Of those, 88% aren’t sure about the safety of health-related links they’ve click on. In fact, out of all survey respondents, 35% don’t know how to check if a website is secure before handing over payment or personal information.

Whether due to naiveté, or a burning desire for an ideal body, people are making themselves vulnerable. The most concerning data was that most people will share email addresses (65%) and their full names (51%) if it means attaining an ideal body shape. In hindsight, the Sleeping Beauty Diet doesn’t sound so bad. At least we can’t come face to face with cybercriminals while asleep, right?

All jokes aside, there are real consequences to clicking without caution. Clicking certain links and downloading files may result in malware being installed on your computer. The risk? If malware compromises your device, it can send private files and information to a criminal. Giving strangers contact information and personal details may also occur as part of a phishing attack—a popular tactic of cybercrooks, and one riddled across phony fad diet ads.

Now, that’s not to say that every diet advertisement is hiding something malicious. There might be useful information behind some health ads, and many fitness websites are legitimate. What we need is to follow online security guidelines in this arena. With that in mind, here are some tips to ensure you browse diet and health content responsibly:

  • Think twice before clicking. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Is it really possible to lose 25 pounds in three days, the healthy way? If an online ad makes an extreme claim, check that the website is reputable before visiting it. A simple Google search can often reveal its credibility, or you could hover over the ad to see if it drives to a fishy URL. Look for signs that the URL is legitimate, such as starting with “https.” Many browsers also have built-in safeguards to vet suspicious sites and ads.
  • Be careful when giving out information. While email may be a convenient way to get deals or receive updates from a service, don’t provide your address to just anyone—especially a site that looks questionable (often poor grammar, misspelled words and low-res images are tipoffs), or makes extravagant claims. The same applies for personal information like names and addresses. And financial information? That should be the most stringently guarded.
  • Use an up-to-date security solution. Keep your devices safe with a product that prevents and combats viruses. McAfee LiveSafe is a great option, providing regular scans for suspicious device activity.

And, of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following me and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.


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