5 Holiday Scams

by Washington Federal Team on November 30, 2011

Warm wishes, holiday cheer… and Internet threats? Unfortunately, holiday festivities tend to invite internet ploys, designed to steal your money or personal information. Whether you’re using your smartphone to do some last minute shopping, or searching the web for a good deal, avoid falling victim to these popular hacker heists.

1. Bogus Charitable Ploys

It is important to exercise an elevated level of scrutiny when making charitable contributions online. Hackers understand that generosity peaks during the holidays and they are only too happy to take advantage of your good will. ¬†Beware of emails and websites claiming to be from legitimate organizations. Hackers can easily create sites that mirror those you’re used to visiting, and they make it easy to hand over your credit card information. Don’t be fooled. Even if it’s a name or group you’ve heard of before, avoid clicking on any links. Do your research: find the charity’s actual homepage by typing the name into your search engine. To further guarantee security, call the organization, and ask that they authenticate the site you’re viewing.

2. Smartphone Malware

A recent National Retail Federation (NRF) survey found that 52.6 percent of U.S. consumers planned to use their smartphones for some sort of holiday shopping. However, this seemingly simple activity comes with the risk of rising malware threats. Malicious software, known as malware, gains your trust by posing as a reputable source, but then invades an operating system with corrupted code, designed to disrupt normal activity, exploit private information and gain unauthorized system access. An easy way to avoid a smartphone invasion is to steer clear of emails and links from unknown sources.

3. Phony Online Coupons

According to the National Retail Federation, 63 percent of shoppers seek out online coupons. Knowing that no one can resist a good deal, hackers are especially likely to use this type of scam in the weeks preceding holiday gift-giving. Be wary of coupons requesting personal information, and keep in mind the old adage: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re in search of a good deal, go directly to the source, as many stores offer online promotions featured prominently on their own websites.

4. Fake-Outs

Cyber scam artists are particularly fond of using lures such as unbelievable prizes, phenomenal freebies and exclusive access to products and services. With consumers stretching their wallets to accommodate seasonal expenditures, they’re much more likely to fall victim to phony promotions. Facebook is a popular platform for this tactic. But beware, once you ‘like’ a page or click on it, bogus offers gain access to your network, sending spam-like messages from your account, which can then compromise your Facebook contacts’ account information.

A similar scam involves those hot holiday items that quickly sell out, making them practically impossible to find. This creates a perfect opportunity for scammers to use hoax sites, advertising exclusive product availability. Desperate shoppers often fail to look at a site’s credentials and falsely assume a source is credible. In the process, they end up providing their credit card information, ultimately paying for an item that doesn’t exist. Once you’ve provided payment information, it’s nearly impossible to turn back the clock, and you’re likely to be left with nothing but a depleted wallet. The online auction site eBay offers a safer alternative because it has security measures in place to protect personal information and guarantee customer satisfaction.

5. Deviant Deliveries

Sending and receiving packages is a common practice during the holidays that has become a popular target for thieves. Generally, packages require little more than a signature at the door. But to many consumers, it wouldn’t seem unusual to receive an email about delivery details. However, if there’s any request for credit card details or directions to a specified link, be careful. Participating could compromise your information, and result in the installation of malware. Before you click, examine the email address it came from and take a look at the language, paying special attention to inaccurate spelling and grammar — a sure sign the email is a fake.

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