The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS in May 2011 prompted a sort of morbid curiosity about the existence of a bin Laden death picture, said to show a gruesome bullet wound above his left eye.
But that curiosity also proved to be an Achilles' Heel for unwitting Internet users who were duped into falling prey to harmful emails purporting to show a bin Laden death picture and video, neither of which was released by the U.S. government.
After the killing of the world's most wanted terrorist, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned Internet users to "exercise caution when they receive emails that purport to show photos or videos of Osama bin Laden's recent death.
"This content could be a virus that could damage your computer. This malicious software, or 'malware,' can embed itself in computers and spread to users' contact lists, thereby infecting the systems of associates, friends, and family members. These viruses are often programmed to steal your personally identifiable information," the FBI stated.
Why the bin Laden Death Photo is Scam
Any email purporting to show a bin Laden death picture is a phony because the bin Laden death picture was never made publicly available. President Barack Obama withheld the bin Laden death picture from public inspection because he believed the image would inflame Islamic extremists.
In an interview with the CBS news program "60 Minutes," the president said flatly: "It is very important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence - as a propaganda tool."
"That's not who we are," Obama said. "You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. We don't need to spike the football."
Obama added on the program: "Certainly there's no doubt among Al Qaeda members that he is dead. And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going to be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see Bin Laden walking on this earth again."
What bin Laden Death Picture Shows
The real bin Laden death picture that is said to be the most recognizable is also extremely gruesome, White House officials said in the media. Such images, they said, could anger al Qaeda sympathizers and reignite terrorist attempts on U.S. soil.
Officials described the bin Laden picture as showing the terrorist leader as having a gaping head wound over his left eye, They said it also shows brain matter and blood.
How to Avoid bin Laden Death Picture Scam
An image said to be the bin Laden picture held by the White House following his killing shows a blood-spatter likeness of the terror mastermind. But it was later described as a fake that had been circulating across the Internet for years.
"The Internet Crime Complaint Center urges computer users to not open unsolicited e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages," the FBI warned. "Even if the sender is familiar, the public should exercise due diligence. Computer owners must ensure they have up-to-date firewall and anti-virus software running on their machines to detect and deflect malicious software."
The FBI suggested taking the following steps to avoid being duped by the bin Laden death picture scam.
- Adjust the privacy settings on social networking sites you frequent to make it more difficult for people you know and do not know to post content to your page. Even a "friend" can unknowingly pass on multimedia that's actually malicious software.
- Do not agree to download software to view videos. These applications can infect your computer.
- Read e-mails you receive carefully. Fraudulent messages often feature misspellings, poor grammar, and nonstandard English.
- Report e-mails you receive that purport to be from the FBI. Criminals often use the FBI's name and seal to add legitimacy to their fraudulent schemes. In fact, the FBI does not send unsolicited e-mails to the public. Should you receive unsolicited messages that feature the FBI's name, seal, or that reference a division or unit within the FBI or an individual employee, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.