Beware of 12 Scams This Christmas!

by CXOtoday News Desk    Dec 24, 2013


This Christmas and through the festive season, many will be using computers, smartphones and tablets for browsing, clicking and buying online. However, as more and more people move online, cybercriminals will leverage this opportunity to steal personal information, earn fast cash, and spread spread malicious software.

IT security firm McAfee has revealed what it believes to be the ‘12 scams of Christmas’ to help shoppers remain safe when they meet the demands of the festive season online. Here’s what to watch out for.

1. Mobile app scams

Companies during the festive season often launch new mobile apps, promising to make Christmas shopping convenient. But McAfee warns that shoppers should think twice about downloading the official-looking software, as these apps can carry malware designed to steal personal data. McAfee therefore suggests sticking to official app stores for safety.

2. Mobile SMS scams

Users may get text messages promising free gifts or prizes from crafty crooks. By following the link, users often end up sharing their personal details. This can leave them exposed to identity theft. FakeInstaller, for example, is a malicious piece of code which tricks Android users into believing it’s an installer for an application. But it can quickly take advantage of unrestricted access to your phone, sending text messages to premium rate numbers. McAfee suggests keep your mobile phone number private and an eye on your phone bill for unusual charges to combat this scam.

3. Gift scams

An easy go-to gift for the holidays, gift cards can be promoted via deceptive ads, especially on Facebook, Twitter, or other social sites, that claim to offer exclusive deals on gift cards or packages of cards and can lead consumers to purchase phony ones online. Even if a deal seems too good to be true users should double check and be suspicious of really low prices and avoid stores you’ve never heard of.

4. Festive travel scams

Travel is a big part of the festive period and many will be looking for the best deals online. Phony travel deal links and notifications are common, as are hackers waiting to steal your identity upon arrival. When logging into an infected PC with an email username and password, scammers can install keylogging spyware, keycatching hardware, and more. A hotel’s Wi-Fi may claim that you need to install software before using it and instead infect your computer with malware if you “agree.” It is therefore important to be wary of unrealistically low prices on flights, rental cars and hotel rooms and only use reputable travel sites.

5. Dangerous E-card greetings

Legitimate-looking e-cards wishing friends “Season’s Greetings” can cause unsuspecting users to download “Merry Malware” such as a Trojan or other virus after clicking a link or opening an attachment. These infect your smartphone, tablet or computer when you click the link or attachment to view the greeting. It’s better to be safe than sorry and therefore not advisable to open an e-card if you don’t know the sender.

6. Deceptive online games

Downloading games for PC, smartphone or tablet can be dangerous over the festive period. Many sites offering full-version downloads of Grand Theft Auto, for example, are often laden with malware, and integrated social media pages can expose gamers, too. Therefore, it is important to stick to safe, well-known app stores when downloading games and check online for reviews beforehand for warnings from less fortunate gamers.

7. Shipping notification shams

Fake shipping notifications can appear to be from a mailing service alerting you to an update on your shipment, when in reality, they are scams carrying malware and other harmful software designed to infect your computer or device. Be on the lookout for email addresses that aren’t quite right, as well as spelling and grammar mistakes to avoid this scam.

8. Bogus gift cards

An easy go-to gift for the holidays, gift cards can be promoted via deceptive ads, especially on Facebook, Twitter, or other social sites, that claim to offer exclusive deals on gift cards or packages of cards and can lead consumers to purchase phony ones online. It is better to go through a retailer directly or a reputable site.

9. Holiday SMiShing

Mobile phones and tablets come with the risk of SMiShing or text message phishing. During the holidays, SMiShing is commonly seen in gift card messages, where scammers pose as banks or credit card companies asking you to confirm information for “security purposes”. Some even include the first few digits of your credit card number in the SMS message to fool you into a false sense of safety.. Instead of replying you should contact the organisation directly if you have any concerns.

10. Fake charities

Donating to charities is common this time of year for many looking to help the less fortunate. However, cybercriminals capitalize on this generosity, especially during natural disaster events, and set up fake charity sites and pocket the donations. Users should watch out that most use a name, email address or web address that is almost identical to a real charity, so it’s easy to be caught out.

11. Romance scams

With so many niche dating sites now available to Internet users, it can be difficult to know exactly who the person is behind the screen. Many messages sent from an online friend can include phishing scams, where the person accesses your personal information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. One should only use reputable dating site, be on the lookout for fake profiles, and never click on links from unknown sources.

12. Phoney e-tailers

The convenience of online shopping does not go unnoticed by cyber scrooges. With so many people planning to shop online, scammers set up phony e-commerce sites to steal your money and personal data. McAfee suggests users should check names and web addresses carefully for subtle differences that indicate the site is a fake and wherever possible limit shopping to known and trusted names.