The holidays are a dangerous time. It’d be nice if the season of cheer was all happiness and joy but, unfortunately, there are malicious people out there who will capitalize on your good spirits to scam you out of a lot of money. If you think you’re safe from scams just because you’re safe at home behind a computer screen, think again.
The basic idea of a scam is always the same: trickery and deceit. We’ve covered this topic before with subjects ranging from Craigslist scams to free gift card scams to online marketing scams. The difference here is that people tend to drop their guard during the holidays, resulting in emotional vulnerabilities that can easily be exploited.
Keep these tips in mind and stay alert, or you may end up regretting it.
Deceptive Giveaways on Social Networks
For those of you who spend a lot of time on social networks — especially Facebook — please be wary when you come across any links. Any links. Yes, even those links that were shared by that friend you trust with all your heart. Though your friend may be the farthest thing from malicious, there’s always the chance that their account has been compromised.
Around this time of year, you’ll see plenty of claims that promise free giveaways, free gift cards, and free products where the only catch is that you need to click a link and answer a question or fill out some details. If you click, you’re as good as done.
At best, these sites will steal your personal data and spam you in the future or sell your data to other companies who will spam you in the future. At worst, they’ll snag your credit card details or install dangerous malware on your computer without you knowing.
Stay safe by… not clicking on these links. If you’re really interested you could probably get away with running a few searches on Google to see if the giveaway is legitimate, but even then I’d still be wary.
Shipping Notification Emails
The months of November, December, and January are flooded with online shoppers who want to take advantage of amazing deals and holiday sales; and that means that there are LOTS of products being shipped all around the world. Scammers have learned to exploit this by sending out fake shipping notification emails.
In fact, I just got one of these a week ago. I hadn’t purchased anything online in a while so I figured it to be a bit fishy, plus I didn’t recognize the sender or the purported product, so I tossed it out and chalked it up as a scam. Do NOT fall for these!
Why are these dangerous? Because they’ll usually mention some sort of problem with the shipping or delivery of your product and ask you to sign in to resolve the issue. The hope is that you’ll click one of the email links — which will be a fake — and enter your Amazon or ebay or whatever site’s login details. They’ll steal that information and use it against you.
Stay safe by… never clicking on links that are directly within an email. If you get an Amazon notification, for example, the safest thing is to open up a new tab in your browser and navigate to Amazon by typing in the address proper. Links might be more convenient, but emails and link addresses are just too easy to spoof.
Fake Online Charities
As Christmas nears ever closer, we tend to feel a bit more generous towards those who are sick and in need. Perhaps it’s the biting weather or the heartwarming festivities, but either way it’s nice to know that charity donations do increase in the winter months.
The sad part is that scammers know how to exploit this, too.
Before you go and give a few hundred dollars to the first charity to win your heart, you should be aware that you might be donating to a fake. These scammers will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars before pulling the plug and running away with all the money. It’s a sick practice but it does happen.
Stay safe by… researching charities ahead of time and donating only to those who have proven to be reputable. Similarly, to add to the tip above, never click on a charity link. Always look them up on a search engine and manually type in their address to avoid fake links.
Phishing Malware Apps
Like computers, smartphones are vulnerable to malware and viruses. That shouldn’t be surprising since smartphones are pretty much mini-computers these days. However, what is surprising is how prevalent malware is in the mobile world.
During the holiday season, scammers will try — and succeed — to put fake shopping apps on various app stores in order to trick smartphone users into typing in their personal details. At worst, people can end up giving away banking details or entire identities in this way.
Stay safe by… only downloading apps that have received lots of good reviews. If you want to use a shopping app, stick with the ones that are tried and true. Experimenting with new apps can be fun but there is risk involved. Also, stay up to date with smartphone antivirus apps.
E-cards might seem like a relic of an Internet age from the past but they’re still alive and kicking. It’s always nice to receive a genuine e-card because it means someone out there is thinking of you. Fake e-cards, on the other hand, are a pain in the butt.
If you haven’t gotten a fake e-card before, it’s pretty simple to spot. You receive an email from an unnamed person and the email will say that you need to click on a link to view the e-card sent to you. Hopefully you can see what happens next.
Stay safe by… not opening e-cards from anonymous senders. A genuine e-card should at least identify the sender in the email. If it doesn’t say who it is — or if you don’t recognize the sender — just put it in the trash. Better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t let these scams put a damper on your Christmas. However, do be aware of their existence and be smart as you browse the web this holiday season. Being scammed is the fastest way to lose all of your holiday cheer and we wouldn’t want that to happen!