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The 12 Scams of Christmas

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Perhaps you’ve noticed: There are scams all over the Internet, run by ill-intentioned people hoping you’re careless or gullible enough to fall into their traps. They want your name, your email address, your passwords and, most of all, your money.

Yeah, you get it — people have been warning you about scams for years. You know what to look for.

That may be true, but the ubiquity of these operations is exactly what makes them so threatening. How often do you click on a link before you’ve finished reading what it is? How often do you download new apps to your smartphone or accidentally touch something that pops up on your tablet? There’s a reason you constantly read about scam warnings: People fall for them.

As such, cybersecurity firm McAfee released its annual “12 Scams of the Holidays” list, which aims to inform consumers of the schemes they’re likely to encounter during one of the busiest times of the year, which also happens to be a time when people can be a little loose with their finances. Here are some reasons you should keep your guard up:

1. You’ve Got Mail!

If you haven’t started receiving holiday promotional emails, they’ll show up soon enough, and they’ll only come more frequently in the next few weeks. Most people shop online for something during the holidays, meaning you’re more likely to fall for a phishing scam, disguised as an alert about your order, or an important note about any one of a dozen things that’s on your mind during the holidays.

2. Deceptive Advertising

There are plenty of great deals, attractive giveaways and fantastic promotions to get in on during the holidays. There are plenty of fake ones, too. Take a minute to think about what you’re doing and who you’re interacting with before giving someone your name, email address, money or anything else in exchange for something that’s too good to be true.

3. Chilling Charities

Fake charities are a huge problem at the end of the year, because most legitimate organizations are scrambling to meet fundraising goals, and you may be just as eager to make tax-deductible donations. Scammers love this sense of urgency. Make sure you’re donating to legitimate causes, and as a side note, if you’re seeking the tax deductions, check the organization’s non-profit status.

4. Buyer Beware

Hey, have you heard of something called a “data breach”? Do company names like Target and Home Depot ring any bells?

You’re no doubt aware of the malware attacks on major retailers in the U.S. and may have even had to replace your credit or debit cards because of them. There’s really nothing you can do to mitigate this risk other than pay in all cash, but you can certainly protect yourself from financial damage by regularly checking your account activity.

Keeping regular tabs on your transactions is the best way to spot something you didn’t authorize, and you should also check your credit scores for signs of fraud. A sudden score drop may indicate identity theft or unauthorized use of your credit cards, so you should check your scores every month. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, with updates every 30 days.

5. iScams

Download with caution, because an appealing app may be just a front for a scammer trying to steal your personal information.

6. Getting Carded

You’re probably expecting a music-filled e-card from your aunt, but beyond that, watch out for other holiday invites and cards that hit your inbox. Don’t click on a card from a site you don’t recognize or interact with anything asking you for information to view the card. If it turns out it was legitimate, you can apologize to your aunt later.

7. Holiday Travel Scams

There are a few risks associated with holiday travel. First there’s the money-saving deal that might be fake, and then there’s the risk of using vulnerable Wi-Fi networks and devices when on the road. You need to thoroughly research any travel deals before purchasing, and you never know who else is on a public Wi-Fi connection, so it’s best to avoid things like banking and online shopping when you’re not on secure networks.

8. Bank Robocall Scam

If your payment information is compromised in a data breach or someone gets a hold of your credit card, you’ll likely receive a notification from your bank. Scammers will try to trick you by impersonating financial institutions, saying your information has been compromised, and hope you will divulge account information. If you’re concerned about your account security, use the customer service number on the back of your credit card or on your bank statement.

9. ATM Skimming

Criminals install skimming devices on ATMs and gas pump card readers so they can copy your debit or credit card information and make fraudulent purchases. Check ATMs for signs of tampering, cover the keypad with your hand when entering a PIN, and watch your account for fraudulent activity.

10. Year in Review Traps

You’ll see all sorts of “Year in Review” articles online, and plenty of them are from legitimate sources. McAfee warns against opening any of these articles sent to work email addresses, because schemes like that often target company security.

11. BYO…Device

It sounds like common sense, but don’t lose your smartphone, tablet or laptop when traveling. In the event you misplace one of your devices, you’ll want it to be well protected, which means using pass codes and any other security measures that make it difficult for an outsider to access.

12. Bad USB Blues

Got a free USB in a gift basket? Sweet. You may not want to use it. McAfee warns that these popular giveaways are sometimes preloaded with malware that will spread when connected to a device. USB drives aren’t that expensive anymore, so you should be fine passing on the free ones.

Above all, exercising caution and checking account activity will help you avoid scams and stop any fraud that may affect you this holiday season. Ideally, you’re practicing these concepts all the time, but if you haven’t gotten into the habit, this is the time to do it.

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Image: James Blinn

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