Cyber Scams: 'Tis The Season To Be Cautious
During the holiday season, cybercriminals are the Grinches of the tech world, trying to wreck everyone's holiday cheer with cyber scams. This year, security vendor McAfee says scammers will be working overtime to trap online gift buyers. What follows is McAfee's prediction for the 12 scams of Christmas.
Malware has recently been discovered that targets QR codes, a digital barcode consumers can scan with their smartphones to learn about products or find deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. More than half of U.S. consumers are expected to use their phones for holiday-shopping activities this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Malicious Mobile Applications
Downloading smartphone apps from unfamiliar sites can land a user into trouble. Malicious Websites will offer mobile apps designed to steal information from smartphones or to send out expensive text messages without a user's consent. Such apps are usually offered for free and masquerade as games.
Phony Facebook Promotions And Contests
Facebook has become a favorite of cyberscammers. Using phony promotions and contests as lures, scammers ask users to fill out forms with personal information. A recent scam advertised free airline tickets to trap victims.
Scareware Or Fake Antivirus Software
Web surfers who stumble upon a malicious site will sometimes get a message saying their computers are at risk or are already infected with a virus. The remedy: download or pay for phony anti-virus software. Such scareware tactics works on an estimated 1 million victims each day, according to McAfee.
PC users need to be extra cautious in downloading holiday-themed screensavers, ringtones and e-cards. Such items are favorite traps to get malware onto PCs. A recent screensaver promising to let you "fly with Santa in 3D" was found to contain malicious software.
Mac users would be wise to be extra careful this holiday season. With Apple's PCs growing in popularity, cybercriminals have written a new wave of malware directed at Macs. MacAfee found 5,000 pieces of Mac-targeted malware as of late 2010, and that number has been increasing 10 percent month to month.
Holiday Phishing Scams
Scammers use holiday-themed e-mails to trick recipients into revealing personal information by following a link in the message. Tricks include phony notices from UPS and warnings that bank accounts have been compromised. The latter alert is also sent in the form of a smartphone text that directs consumers to call a phone number to reactivate accounts, asking for social security numbers and other personal information as identification.
Online Coupon Scams
Scammers are taking advantage of consumers' love for redeeming online coupons to get people to hand over personal information. Popular scams include promising the chance for a free iPad and offering a coupon code that first requires credit-card details, passwords and financial data.
Mystery Shopper Scams
Stores often hire people to shop and report back to customer service on the experience. Scammers will send text messages offering to pay people $50 an hour to be a mystery shopper. People who fall into the trap are asked for credit card and bank account numbers and other personal info.
Hotel 'Wrong Transaction' Malware E-mails
With lots of people traveling during the holidays, cybercriminals send out lots of travel-related email scams with links to malicious web sites. One scammer recently sent a phony e-mail purported to be from a hotel claiming a "wrong transaction" on the recipient's credit card. The remedy: filling out an attached refund form. Clicking on the attachment loaded malware onto the computer.
'It' Gift Scams
Every year scammers take advantage of hot holiday gifts that often sell out at legitimate retailers. Cybercriminals will advertise the gifts on rogue web sites and social networks in an attempt to get people to head to malicious web sites to pay for the item with credit cards.
'I'm Away From Home' Scammers
People need to be careful about posting vacation plans on social networking sites. Cybercriminals will search such sites to find the best time to break into a home. Addresses are often easy to find through a quick online search.