“The secret behind the sale of an airline in South Africa,” reads the headline of an article on a suspicious website with the URL bbc.org.sa.com.
“One of the most famous businessmen in South Africa managed to acquire an airline in South Africa in a confidential deal whose details have not been announced so far,” the undated article says.
Airlines in South Africa are under pressure after being grounded in late March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The article was first shared on Facebook on 28 April, and has since attracted more than 1.3 million views.
But it appears to be a scam.
Not the BBC
The web page has the same look and feel as the credible BBC News website. But it doesn’t show the BBC logo. The site has no home page – rather, the URL bbc.org.sa.com directs to a very different-looking page headed “Apache 2 Test Page powered by CentOS”.
The domain lookup site whois.com reveals that “bbc.org.sa.com” is registered to a different owner than that of the BBC domain, “bbc.com”.
It is also telling that there are no links away from the article. The page shows a menu with categories such as “World”, “Business” and “Entertainment & Arts” – all part of the real BBC News site. But the links don’t work. It seems to be part of a larger website, but it’s actually just a single page.
An image in the article shows what appears to be the wing of an airplane flying over land. This is labelled “News24 Video”, but no video is included.
The article gives no real details. It mentions “one of the most famous businessmen in South Africa”, “an English company” and “the airline”, but names none of them.
The catch is revealed when the article says the unnamed businessman bought the airline with money made trading the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
It ends with an “update” that invites readers to “please enter your data below and the financial advisor of the company will contact you to inform you about how to invest and trade online”.
Below that is a button marked “Click Here to Register”.
It is unusual for news reports to encourage readers to partner with specific companies to earn money, but this is a common front for cryptocurrency trading scams.
In November 2019 Which magazine warned consumers of an increase in cryptocurrency scams after Bitcoin peaked in value in 2017. These often followed the style of the bbc.org.sa.com article: a false news page, designed to look real, which encourages readers to sign up for a cryptocurrency trading program. Which magazine found that people who did so often lost amounts up to £200,000 (more than R4.5 million).
The false article and the dozens of comments beneath it (all seemingly posted minutes ago, no matter when you load the page) seem designed to entice a reader into joining a suspicious trading scheme. – Keegan Leech
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