Resident Evil viral marketing ploy backfires

Mobile virus hoax taxes support desks

A marketing campaign to promote the latest version of the Resident Evil video game has provoked a panic about the spread of a non-existent mobile phone virus.

Users have received unsolicited SMS text messages on their mobile phones telling them they are infected by the so-called T-Virus, prompting calls to AV company Sophos about the supposed outbreak. The messages are sent from a website designed to promote the game Resident Evil: Outbreak, in which players defend themselves against zombies by blowing their heads off with a shotgun.

The website allows unsolicited text messages to be sent to mobile phones claiming that the phone is infected, without the permission of the phone's owner. A typical message reads: "Outbreak: I'm infecting you with t-virus, my code is ******. Forward this to 60022 to get your own code and chance to win prizes. More at"

"The messages themselves are not infectious, but some people have panicked that they might have received a real mobile phone virus," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This marketing campaign seems particularly ill-conceived, as there is so much genuine interest in the mobile virus threat at present."

CE Europe, the company behind the marketing campaign, has issued a press release which makes it clear that the whole thing is a promotional stunt. IT departments and anti-virus support staff have enough work in dealing with real viruses without dealing with hoaxes. Doubtless, they will be less than whelmed by the self-proclaimed ingenuity of CE Europe's viral marketing tactics.

It's not the first time a virus hoax has been started to promote a product. In 1996, Penguin Books started the Irina hoax in an attempt to promote a new book. The hoax continued to spread and cause confusion for some years. VMyths provides extensive background on the whole virus hoax phenomenon. ®

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