How Shameless Opportunists Are Exploiting Grieving MH17 Families

These people and organisations don't really care who they exploit or ripoff in the wake of a tragedy such as this.

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As families and friends of MH17 crash victims face an agonising wait for proper burials, in a sick revelation, online scammers and opportunists have already started to hijack their memories for profit

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Fake Facebook pages set up for the victims of the MH17 plane crash have been used by scammers and hackers to target grieving relatives and members of the public looking for information about the tragedy.

According to reports, at least six fake Facebook pages were created using the names of MH17 victims killed when the MAS plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine

Three of the sites were set up in the name of West Australian children who were killed, including the now-shutdown above

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Australian media has reported that at least six pages have been set up using the names of known victims from flight MH17, with the pages filled with posts promising video footage of the moment the flight crashed in Ukraine.

Unsuspecting users who clicked the links would then be bombarded by pop-ups for a number of dubious services including as get-rich-quick schemes, with the hackers’ sites also thought to contain malware and other dangerous programs.

Three of the fake pages that were created even used the names of a trio of young siblings from Perth - Otis, Evie and Mo Maslin – who died in the crash with their grandfather. Similar pages for victims from the US and UK were also created, reports the Daily Mail.

One Facebook page dedicated to Liam Sweeney, one of the 298 crash victims, urged viewers to click on a link called, "Video Camera Caught the moment plane MH17 Crash over Ukraine"

A Facebook apparently dedicated to Liam Sweeney was set up, hosting spam

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A Facebook community page dedicated to Liam Sweeney, one of the 298 people victims, uses his name and picture. Its sole post is a link entitled: "Video Camera Caught the moment plane MH17 Crash over Ukraine".

However, the link takes users to a pornographic website. Moreover, anyone who clicks on it is then asked to call a phone number in order to verify that they are aged 18 or older.

However, Facebook, after being alerted about the fake pages, has now deleted them. A spokesman said:

"We are disabling these profiles as soon as we are made aware of them. We encourage people to block those responsible and report suspicious behaviour to our team of experts via our reporting buttons so that we can quickly take the appropriate action."

This comes amid the claims by Ukrainian MP Anton Gerashchenko that "death hunters" were collecting cash, jewelry and the credit cards of the victims of MH17 from the crash site

In response to the above claim, the Dutch Banking Association said in a statement that the next of kin would be compensated for any damages resulting from credit card theft related to the crash

"International media reports that victims of debit cards may have been stolen. Most important is that a debit card without a PIN is basically unusable," read the statement (via a Google-translated version of the Dutch text). "If necessary, banks will take preventive measures. Any damage resulting from abuse of [bank cards] will compensate the next of kin."

According to Internet safety expert Alastair MacGibbon, this is unfortunately pretty common. He told the Canberra Times that disaster fraud is "extremely lucrative."

Flowers and mementos lie on wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region

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Director of the University of Canberra's Centre for Internet Safety Alastair MacGibbon told The Canberra Times that such scams were "extremely lucrative" and common after such disasters: "Crooks are superfast these days at picking up on anything that's remotely topical, and working out how to monetise it from a criminal point of view. It's a really distasteful trend."

The scams are incredibly lucrative for criminals, who don't really care who they exploit or ripoff in the wake of a tragedy such as this. "You're really dealing with a base type of person who uses the name of a person recently deceased in a tragedy to monetize," Alastair MacGibbon said. "It's a really distasteful trend."

Such attempts to cash-in on disasters are becoming more prevalent and have been known to solicit donations for fake charities, or simply to take cash for directing traffic to certain websites.

Similar fake accounts were also created in the wake of the previous Malaysia Airlines accident, when MH370 went missing between Kuala Lumber and Beijing in March this year

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The previous Malaysia Airlines tragedy, which involved the disappearance of Flight 370 in March, also attracted Facebook scammers. Fake news stories and videos popped up on the social networking site, some (falsely) claiming that the plane had been found.

But users who clicked on the site were taken to external sites aimed at harvesting their personal information or asking them to complete surveys that would earn the scammers money.

Meanwhile, in between all this, Digital News Asia is reporting that claims have been filed to trademark the terms 'MH17' and 'MH370'

A 2011 filepic of MH370

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Details of the 'MH17' filing, submitted on July 17 itself, were found on the European Trade Mark and Design Network website and the application under examination. The 'MH370' filing submitted on May 2 was found on the Justia Trademarks site, and according to the site, has yet to be assigned a case examiner.

DNA reports that the same company, Seyefull Investments Limited which is incorporated in Belize City, filed both applications

Belize City is the largest city in the Central American country of Belize and was once the capital of the former British Honduras. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The scope of usages listed within both applications is wide ranging: From conferences, exhibitions and competitions; to education and instruction, and entertainment services (namely, the provision of continuing programmes, segments, movies, and shows delivered by television, radio, satellite and the Internet).

A trademark industry observer, who asked not to be named, said that such filings are “fairly common, but also fairly pointless” because they usually get rejected and lead to bad public relations for the people or company which filed the trademark, as well as for the trademark industry as a whole.

He said that the case in question was “another sign of companies or individuals taking advantage of tragedies using the trademark register. I don't know the reason for these, it's probably opportunistic from what I can tell – the fact the MH17 one was filed on Thursday definitely suggests that.

Asked whether Malaysia Airlines (MAS) should be concerned about such moves, he pointed to another filing made by Aoan International Pty Ltd to register an Australian trademark for 'MH370' in March that is due to be accepted on July 30. “However, it seems that Malaysia Airlines is concerned about this kind of thing because 10 days ago, [Malaysia Airlines] itself registered a trademark in Australia for ‘MH370',” he said.

The most obvious reason why one would want to register 'MH370' and 'MH17' is probably due to the potential of these events being made into movies or books

A photograph of a young boy lies amongst tributes at the entrance to Schiphol Airport which has grown into a sea of flowers in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 20, 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands

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“However, one should also question whether they infringe the rights owned by MAS in applying to register such a mark in the first place. Usually, the Registrar would not allow registration should it feel that this infringes the existing rights of another party. MAS still retains the common law proprietary rights in the mark,” she added.

MAS had filed its own Community Trade Mark application for 'MH17.' However, this was made on 21 July, a few days after the application made by Seyefull, DNA reports

“I do not know why [Malaysia Airlines] filed, but it may have been alerted by the company's application or is trying to block others from registering the mark,” said Foong.

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