Scam-a-Claus is Coming To Town!

You better not pout, you better not cry, you better keep your wits about you, I’m telling you why... Holiday time is fast approaching and crooks, thieves, and cyber criminals of all kinds are prepared more than ever to steal your money, your identity, and reap untold havoc upon you. Black Friday, the date we now know as the busiest shopping day of the year, is a particularly vulnerable time for online and mobile holiday shoppers.

After digesting that turkey and delicious pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, the very next day is that other great American tradition called Black Friday.  This year, shoppers will descend on shopping malls everywhere to officially kick off the 2011 Holiday season.  Along with the normal foot traffic that retailers will be expecting, millions of shoppers will also be using their desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices to help make their shopping a little easier and more convenient.  In fact, Black Friday has its very own computer-savvy baby sister known as Cyber Monday, which is that first Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, touted as the busiest online shopping day of the year. It’s all very exciting.  But we all know that when we use our electronic gear for our shopping needs, it’s important to remember that there are dangers out there too.

Click and Receive

Holiday packages are a welcome and expected part of the holiday experience, but beware of emails on your computers and mobile devices exclaiming that you have just received a package from UPS, FedEx, or the US Post Office. Be wary of any message that asks you to fill out a form or provide any personal information.  This is a popular scam to steal your identity or to gather enough information to get into your bank account and empty it out.  And we can’t say it enough:  don’t click any links from any unknown sources. Not only can the link do irreparable harm to your computer or phone, but it could also be the first step in a diabolical coordinated effort to achieve access to your personal files, including passwords and other personal data.

Text Phishing – You can bank on it!

You certainly need to watch out for fraudulent emails, but with the proliferation of mobile devices in our everyday lives, you now need to be super-wary of text messages that are out to do you harm too. One new scam that is sure to be popular this season are fake text messages that are pretending to alert you that your savings or checking accounts may have been hit with some illegal activity. The text will tell you that you need to call a given phone number immediately to reactivate and “secure” your account. That phone number, set up by these slick slimy criminals, will attempt to capture your home address, Social Security number, and other information.  At that point, your account will really be plundered by these criminal clowns.

Coupon Alert

Tis’ the season to look for those good deals, and , to be sure, there are plenty of good legitimate ones to be found. But cyber-crooks know that you’re looking and they’re more than willing to provide some well-designed scams to rip you off. Online coupons are very popular, but watch out for the too-good-to-be-true coupon offers that will lead you to a malicious website asking you for your credit card information and other personal data. A lot of these fake offers will try to lure you in with promises of winning free gifts including iPads and other coveted electronic devices. Make sure the coupon offers that you’re chasing down are from legitimate sources.  If you’ve never heard of the company, or if the known company’s logo looks slightly different in some way, make like Dasher, Prancer, and Blitzen, and move quickly out of there. You might also receive emails or texts about this year’s hot or hard-to-get gift items that will lead you to rogue websites and get you to pay for items that you’ll never receive.  These scams can also show up on social networking sites like Facebook too, so keep an eye out for unsolicited messages and posts that are offering deals that sound too good to be true.

Fake Refunds

Here’s another one to watch out for:  The phony refund.  It could look like it’s from a hotel, a chain store, or even a popular online destination like Amazon. It might say something like “wrong transaction” or “click for refund” but the culprits just want you to click the link in order to spill malware all over your computer or mobile device.  

Be Vigilant, Skeptical & Smart

            These are just a handful of the many scams that are out there looking for the next victim. As a shopper, you need to be aware of the dangers and know that making just one bad decision can cause you a great deal of harm and expense if you’re not careful. Here are a few tips to keep in mind during this year’s holiday rush:

  • Use credit instead of debit – If you happen to fall victim to a scam, your credit card company might be able to reverse charges if you can prove that you’ve been victimized.  With debit cards, the money is already gone and your chances are slim that you could be reimbursed.
  • Be wary of bulk email – It’s often obvious when email that you get on your computer or phone is a mass mailing trying to get you to buy buy buy.  If you make a general rule not to purchase from companies that send out spam, you just might be saving yourself a lot of trouble.
  • Be wary of phony websites – Make sure it’s a legit website. See if the company logo looks suspiciously different. Is the color off?  Is it spelled correctly?  Are there grammatical errors in the text that you’re reading?  Make sure you have Norton Safe Web installed. The application will warn you of unsafe sites even before you get to them. Norton Safe Web will let you know on Google, Bing, and Yahoo search engines that the site you’re thinking of visiting is not a safe one. It will also alert you of suspicious online sales sites or if a website has potentially dangerous downloads.
  • Protect your social networking activities too – Facebook has millions of users and that means criminals are constantly looking for ways to infiltrate the network to steal people’s identity and personal information.  If you’re on Facebook, be sure to install Norton Safe Web for Facebook. It’s free and extremely effective in ensuring your Facebook experience is free of potential scams and con-artists.
  • Stay calm and use your common sense – Yes, the majority of websites and emails are completely safe from danger. But there are cyber-criminals out there, and the holiday time of year the percentage of scams and illegal activity on the Internet are spiked simply because there are more of us doing online shopping during the holidays. Be wary and use your best judgment so that you can avoid falling victim during this special time of the year.