Security experts are warning computer users to be prepared for potential spam and phishing attacks following the surprise death of pop star Michael Jackson.

Jackson, 50, died suddenly following a cardiac arrest at his home in California yesterday and was pronounced dead at a Los Angeles hospital at around 2:26pm local time.

Worldwide interest in the news surrounding Jackson increased dramatically, with Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and major news agencies including CNN, the BBC and MSNBC all reportedly struggling to cope with a surge in online traffic.

As the news broke, those who entered the singer’s name into Google were met with an error message stating “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application”.

And security experts are warning computer users that spammers and fraudsters will seek to capitalise on the interest in Jackson with a series of attempts to distribute computer viruses and spyware via email.

In the past, such attacks have surfaced following the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami of 2004, the execution of Saddam Hussein and more recently the crash of Air France flight 447.

Similar attacks are also expected following the death of former Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett.

Mark Hofman of the Internet Storm Center claimed that it would be “only a matter of hours before we will start seeing SPAM relating to the subject.”

Michael Jackson fans who have previously bought tickets for his upcoming 50-date residency at London’s O2 Arena are being warned to be particularly wary of phishing emails seemingly offering refunds on tickets. Those who receive emails are advised that at no point should the concert promoter or your ticket agency require ticket holders to enter credit card or bank details in order to process refunds.

It is envisaged that those who ordered tickets either online or over the phone will see their refunds processed automatically. Both the O2 Arena and Ticketmaster UK have pledged to announce details on how to obtain refunds in due course.

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