The holidays are upon us and while most of us are focused on what we want to give, online scammers are focused on what they want to take! They know that we use our digital devices to shop for gifts, look for deals, and keep in touch during the holiday season so they have designed a host of scams to trick us out of our information, money and cheer.
Don’t let the cyber Grinches spoil your holiday season! Check out our list of the top 12 scams of the season and make sure that you and your loved ones know how to stay safe.
The 12 Scams of the Holidays
1) Not-so-merry mobile apps—We’re crazy about our smartphones and cybercriminals know it. That's why they've been as busy as elves designing malicious mobile apps that appear to be useful or benign applications (like shopping app or games), but are actually designed to deliver malware, or hide in the background looking for personal information, such as bank authorization codes.
2) Holiday Mobile SMS Scams—Mobile scams sent via SMS, or text message, are expected to be even more rampant during the holiday season. Look out for text messages with dangerous links encouraging you to update or install an app since you could find yourself infected with malware or signed up for a premium text messaging service, leaving you with hefty phone bill.
3) Hot Holiday Gifts Scams—Too-good-to-be true offers are a hallmark of this scamming season, so be wary of advertising that offers steep discounts on must-have items. Clever crooks may publish phony e-commerce websites, send phishing emails, or post fake contests on social media sites to get you to reveal your personal information or download malware.
4) Seasonal travel scams—Whether you're planning a trip to visit family or friends, or just want a winter getaway, travel is a big part of the holiday season, and the scammers know it. They're hoping to catch you when your guard is down by offering you phony travel deals on dangerous websites, or through spam email offers.
Even when you get to your destination, you need to keep on the lookout. Using shared computers in hotels or cafés can be dangerous, since scammers sometimes install keylogging spyware, which can record everything you type, including your passwords. Also, stay away from free Wi-Fi since hackers can potentially access the information you're sending over the network if it is not secure.
5) Dangerous E-greetings—Paper holiday cards are nice, but these days many of us find it easier to send and receive e-cards. But, before you click, be careful. Some dangerous (and usually free) e-cards can download a virus when you click to open the email attachment.
6) Deceptive online games—For most of us, the holidays bring some much needed time off, and kids and adults alike often like to relax by playing games online. While many games are safe, sites offering game downloads sometimes contain malware, especially sites that offer cheap or free versions of popular games. Even social media games can be risky if they ask for your personal information, or access to your friends list.
7) Shipping notification shams—Many of us send a lot of packages during the holidays, and keeping track of all the orders can be confusing. Scammers know this and try to fool us by sending phony shipping notification emails, in the hopes that you will click on them and accidentally download malware onto your machine.
8) Bogus gift cards—Let's face it – finding the perfect gifts for all of your family and friends can be downright difficult, so that's what makes gift cards so great. But, unfortunately, cybercriminals found a way to take the ease out of easy gift-giving by offering phony gift cards online.
9) Holiday SMiShing—SMiShing, or phishing via text message, is a scam that takes advantage of our reliance on mobile devices. Cybercriminals send messages trying to trick you into revealing personal information by posing as a legitimate institution or business, such as your bank or credit card company. And around the holidays, they know that many of us are keeping a close eye on our bank accounts and may be more likely to fall for these ploys.
10) Fake charities—Charities are great way to give back over the holidays, but, be careful where you’re giving. There are some scammers that like to take advantage of our generosity by setting up fake sites for charitable donations. The sites may even look just like sites you are familiar with, such as the Red Cross.
11) Romance scams—Who doesn't want to kiss someone under the mistletoe? But if you're looking for love this holiday season, you may suffer more than just a broken heart – you could wind up with an empty wallet. If you're using online dating sites, it's hard to know with whom you are really communicating and with so many niche dating sites now available online, it can be difficult to tell which are real and which are phishing scams posing as reputable sources to access personal information like usernames, passwords and credit cards.
12) Phony E-tailers—Online retailers can take the headache out of the holidays, giving you thousands of gifts to choose from in the comfort of your own home. However, not all sites are safe. Scammers have set up fake e-commerce sites that often try to lure you with great deals on popular holiday gifts.
How to Protect Yourself Against Scams During the Holidays, and Year-Round:
- Stay suspicious—Be wary of any offer that sounds too-good-to-be true, and always look for telltale signs that an email or website may not be legitimate, such as low-resolution images, misspellings, poor grammar, or odd links.
- Practice safe shopping—Stick to reputable e-commerce sites and look for a trustmark that indicates that the site has been verified as safe by a trusted third-party, like the McAfee SECURE™ mark. Also, look for a lock symbol and “https” at the beginning of the web address (as opposed to just “http”) to see if the site uses encryption to protect your data.
- Be careful when clicking—Don’t click on any links in emails or text messages from people you don’t know, and if you come across a shortened URL, use a URL expander, such as LongURL, to see where the link is directed to before you click.
- Research your apps—Only download apps from official app stores and make sure to read other users’ comments and reviews before you download.
- Do a background check on charities—Before donating to a charity, research it thoroughly beforehand, and make sure that you go to the charity's official website. Do not respond to donation pleas via email.
- Secure all your devices—Software such as McAfee LiveSafe™ service can help protect your PC, Mac, smartphone, and tablet with one simple interface. It guards you against viruses, malware, hackers, and thieves, while allowing you to easily manage your passwords.
To learn more about the 12 scams and how you can stay safe this holiday season, click here.