Online Scams Threaten Holiday Cheer
Credit: Holiday buying image via Shutterstock

Shoppers not wanting to find a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings this year need to avoid the numerous online scams cybercriminals have planned.

With online shopping is at an all-time high, security technology company McAfee says criminals plan to use the opportunity to try to rip off consumers in a number of  ways.

"One of the best ways for consumers to protect themselves is to learn about the criminals' tricks, so they can avoid them," said Paula Greve, director at McAfee Labs.

To help keep shoppers safe, McAfee has released this year's list of the most dangerous online scams to watch out for this holiday season, which include:

  • Social media: Scammers use channels such as Facebook and Twitter just like email and websites, to scam consumers during the holidays. Be careful when clicking or liking posts, signing up for raffles, and any fan page deals that you get from "friends" that advertise the hottest holiday gifts.
  • Malicious mobile apps: As the popularity of apps has grown, so have the chances that a smartphone or tablet user could download a malicious app designed to steal their information or even send out premium-rate text messages without their knowledge.
  • Travel: Phony travel Web pages, sometimes using a consumer's preferred company and with beautiful pictures and rock-bottom prices, try to get shoppers to hand over financial details.
  • Holiday spam/phishing: Soon many of these spam emails will take on holiday themes. Cheap Rolex watches and pharmaceuticals may be advertised as the "perfect gift" for that special someone.
  • iPhone 5, iPad mini and other hot holiday gifts:Cybercrooks will mention must-have holiday gifts in dangerous links, phony contests and phishing emails as a way to grab computer users' attention to get them to reveal personal information or click on a link that could download malware onto their machine.

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  • Skype message scare: People around the world will use Skype to connect with loved ones this holiday season, but they should be aware of a new Skype message scam that attempts to infect their machine, and even hold their files for ransom.
  • Bogus gift cards: Be wary of buying gift cards from third parties.
  • Holiday SMiShing: "SMiSishing" is phishing via text message. Just like with email phishing, the scammer tries to lure shoppers into revealing information or performing an action they normally wouldn't do by pretending to be a legitimate organization.
  • Phony e-tailers: Fake e-commerce sites, that appear real, try to lure shoppers into giving their credit card number and other personal details, often by promoting "great" deals.
  • Fake charities: This is one of the biggest scams of every holiday season. As consumers open up their hearts and wallets, the bad guys hope to get in on the giving by sending spam emails advertising fake charities.
  • Dangerous e-cards: E-Cards are a popular way to send a quick "thank you" or holiday greeting, but some are malicious and may contain spyware or viruses that download onto a computer once the recipient clicks on the link to view the greeting.
  • Phony classifieds: Online classified sites may be a great place to look for holiday gifts and part-time jobs, but beware of phony offers that ask for too much personal information or ask you to wire funds via Western Union.

"For the millions of consumers who plan to go online this holiday season to shop for the best deals, finalize travel plans and update their social channels, it’s important that they enjoy those activities safely by checking their security protection on their computers and mobile devices first," said Gary Davis, vice president of McAfee Global Consumer Marketing. "To keep their personal and financial information secure, it’s also important to be wary of offers that are too good to be true, not click on links or open attachments from people they don’t know or companies' emails or sites that look suspect, and go directly to websites by typing their name in web address bar."

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