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Scammers busting brackets: Online bets, streaming apps being targeted, cyber experts say

With the tournament being canceled last year, this year, there's a rise of phishing emails and texts disguised as legitimate brackets.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cybersecurity experts are warning that hackers are targeting March Madness followers, leaving basketball fans with busted brackets and possibly empty bank accounts. 

“This time of year, you know, we count on spring coming, and we count on the NCAA tournament," Mark Ostrowski, head of engineering for Check Point Software, an IT and data security company, said. “Especially with last year with the cancellation, you know, I think a lot of folks are really spending even more time getting their brackets filled out picking their teams and scammers are aware of this."

Ostrowski said with people still social distancing, scammers know more fans than ever will turn to the internet for their basketball fix.

RELATED: And then there were none: All March Madness perfect brackets busted

He said they’re seeing a rise of phishing emails and texts disguised as legitimate brackets.

“Hey, your brackets changed, or last-minute click on this to submit your teams," he used as an example. "And those are the exact type of phishing emails that scammers try to send out to kind of get that quick response, ''Oh, man, I better get this thing done.' And that's what leads sort of down the path of collecting personal information.”

It might even look like it’s from someone you know.

“You can kind of suspect that maybe the link that you got was really not from your friends or from or from colleagues asking you to join their pool," Ostrowski said.

RELATED: NCAA apologizes to women's tournament teams for weight room inequities

But the bad links aren’t always obvious. They could be carbon copies of sites you’ve used before.

“They make the websites look very much what you would you expect them to be," Ostrowski explained. "They copy logos, use the same fonts.”

Experts suggest you go to the sites you trust directly instead of clicking links.

Even if you’re not doing an online bracket, the scammers could still get you while you’re trying to stream games.

“What threat actors try to do is distract you from what they're actually trying to put on your machines or your mobile devices, so they'll offer you a stream, this game, download this app, and you think that you're getting the app to download the game, but really, malware is being you know, secretly kind of slid under the radar," Ostrowski said.

That malware could be used to steal your data, money and security, not to mention your bracket could get busted, and no one wants that.