Friday, November 11, 2011

The 12 scams of Christmas

This article by Tori Floyd appeared on The RIGHT Click, a Yahoo! news blog. It's worth passing along. Read and heed.

The holidays are a time when many of us think about connecting with old friends, traveling to be with family and shopping until we're blue in the face.

But all the busyness of the holiday season also makes it the perfect time for cybercriminals to prey on their unsuspecting victims online.

To help combat the perils of Christmas criminals, cyber security experts McAfee Inc. has released its annual list of the '12 Scams of the Holidays,' highlighting some of the ways internet users are open to fraudsters and hackers that can take advantage of you.

1. Hotel "wrong transaction" malware emails

Be wary of emails from hotels telling you they have run a "wrong transaction" on your credit card. These emails often have a "refund form" attached that when clicked, the user downloads malware onto his or her system. Only open attachments from senders you know, and contact the hotel listed in the email to confirm the mix-up before you click anything.

2. Mystery shopper scams

Getting a job as a mystery shopper seems an ideal holiday job for many people: you can make some extra cash and get some of your holiday shopping done at the same time. Unfortunately, the old adage of "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" holds up here, and scammers have been known to send text messages recruiting candidates. Once the receiver calls back the sender, the scammer asks for personal information like credit card and bank account numbers. Real recruiters wouldn't ask for this kind of information.

3. "I'm away from home" scams

If you make a point of mentioning when you'll be traveling out-of-town this holiday, you might want to think twice before you announce it on Facebook. We've all seen how the bad guys in Home Alone scout out a neighbourhood over Christmas to see who won't be home - thanks to people publicly sharing their plans online, burgalars don't even need to leave the house anymore. Make sure you only connect with people you know through social networks, and don't share with the masses when your house will be empty.

4. Phony Facebook promotions and contests

There are plenty of giveaways and promotions on Facebook that ask you to sign up in order to enter. Be wary of ones that need you to sign up with lengthy surveys gathering personal information, particularly from a company or person you don't recognize, as cybercriminals will collect this information and sell it to spam and telemarketing companies.

5. Scareware, or fake antivirus software

One of the most common scams online right now is 'scareware,' which warns users that their computer is or at risk of becoming infected, and they need to download security software right away. According to McAfee, one million users fall for this scam every day. Buy all security software directly from a trusted website or retailer, not through pop-ups that are likely seeking to do more harm than good.

6. Malicious content and websites

When you're searching for the perfect Christmas gift online, you'll likely come across a slew of ads for holiday ecards and ring tones. According to McAfee, a good percentage of these are likely malicious and worth avoiding. The company also says that out of the top 100 search terms each day, nearly 50 per cent lead to malicious websites.

7. Malicious mobile apps

With 60 per cent of the average Internet users now owning at least three digital devices per household, mobile devices are becoming a greater target for cybercriminals. Malicious apps are on the rise, designed to steal personal information or send out expensive text messages. Stick to apps downloaded from official app stores like iTunes, BlackBerry App World and the Android Market.

8. Mac malware

While they were once thought of as untouchable, Macs are taking up a much larger market share with home users, and are therefore becoming more tempting to hackers. McAfee says that malware that can attack Macs is on the rise of 10 per cent a month. Installing security software on all Macs and iOS devices is your best protection.

9. Zombie infections

No, there's no need to run out and stop chopping off the heads of the undead. Zombie infections are viruses that allow hackers to control your computer remotely. Like many of the other scams, avoid clicking on links from unknown senders and make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date.

10. Holiday phishing scams

The holidays are the perfect time for scammers to try and gather personal information from people. One popular scam poses as a courier, stating that you have a package to pick up, but need to fill in personal information before you can collect it. Call companies to confirm details before you click on a link. The same is true for charity solicitation scams: contact charities you want to donate to directly instead of clicking email requests.

11. Online coupon scams

The popularity of coupons hasn't gotten by scammers. Some fradulent sites offering coupons will also ask for banking information and if they do, you know it isn't legit. Never give out banking information to an unknown source. To add insult to injury, many of these coupons are fake, and customers won't be able to redeem them for the promised discounts.

12. "It" gift scams

Those hot gifts can be a pain to get, but never try and take the easy way out to get them. If you come across a website offering you the hottest holiday product for cheap, you'll often end up paying a lot more for it buy 'purchasing' it. Scammers won't send you the product (or at least not the real deal), and they walk away with your credit card information. Only purchase from reputable retailers.

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