Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 15, 2012

McAfee warns consumers of the '12 Scams of Christmas'

Susceptibility rises as most consumers plan to shop online during the 2012 holiday season

By James Limbach
ConsumerAffairs.com

— Operating on the theory that forewarned is forearmed, McAfee is exposing what it calls it “Top 12 Scams of Christmas” that criminals plan to use to rip off consumers as they shop online this holiday season.

According to the security technology firm's 2012 Holiday Shopping Study, 70% of those asked said they plan to shop online this holiday season. Additionally, a surprising 1 in 4 (24%) of them plan to use their mobile devices and -- while aware of the risks -- they are willing to give away their personal information if they can get something they value in return.

Despite the fact that 87% of smartphone or tablet owners surveyed are at least somewhat concerned that their personal information could be stolen while using an app on a smartphone or tablet, nearly nine in ten are willing to provide some level of personal information in order to receive an offer that is of value to them.

Irresistible to criminals

Among those Americans planning on using smartphones and/or tablets to purchase gifts this holiday season, over half are specifically planning to use apps for shopping and/or banking during the holiday season; as such, mobile devices have proven irresistible to cybercriminals, and now they are targeting mobile users through malicious applications.

With roughly three in ten (28%) American smartphone and/or tablet owners admitting they do not pay attention at all to app permissions and 36% paying attention but specifying they do not always do so, Cyber-Scrooge criminals are ready to pounce.

The scams

‘Tis the season for consumers to spend more time online -- shopping for gifts. Eighty-eight percent of those who plan on shopping online during the 2012 holiday season say they'll use a personal computer to do so, and 34% will use a tablet (21%) and/or smartphone (19%). But with nearly half (48%) of Americans planning to shop online on Cyber Monday for sales (45% using a computer, 10% using a mobile device), here are the “12 Scams of Christmas” -- the dozen most dangerous online scams to watch out for this holiday season, revealed today by McAfee:

  1. Social media scams -- Cybercriminals know social media networks are a good place to catch you off guard because we’re all “friends,” right? Scammers use channels, like Facebook and Twitter, just like email and websites to scam consumers during the holidays. Be careful when clicking or liking posts, while taking advantage of raffle contests, and fan page deals that you get from your “friends” that advertise the hottest Holiday gifts, installing apps to receive discounts, and your friends’ accounts being hacked and sending out fake alerts. Twitter ads and special discounts utilize blind, shortened links, many of which could easily be malicious.
  2. Malicious Mobile Apps -- As smartphone users we are app crazy, downloading over 25 billion apps for Android devices alone. But as the popularity of applications has grown, so have the chances that you could download a malicious application designed to steal your information or even send out premium-rate text messages without your knowledge.
  3. Travel Scams -- Before you book your flight or hotel to head home to see your loved ones for the holidays, keep in mind that the scammers are looking to hook you with too-good-to-be-true deals. Phony travel Webpages, sometimes using your preferred company, with beautiful pictures and rock-bottom prices are used to get you to hand over your financial details.
  4. 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.
  5. iPhone 5, iPad Mini and other hot holiday gift scams -- The kind of excitement and buzz surrounding Apple’s new iPhone 5 or iPad Mini is just what cybercrooks dream of when they plot their scams. They will mention must-have holiday gifts in dangerous links, phony contests (example: “Free iPad”) and phishing emails as a way to grab computer users’ attention to get you to reveal personal information or click on a dangerous link that could download malware onto your machine.
  6. 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.
  7. Bogus gift cards -- Cybercriminals can't help but want to get in on the action by offering bogus gift cards online. Be wary of buying gift cards from third parties; just imagine how embarrassing it would be to find out that the gift card you gave your mother-in-law was fraudulent!
  8. Holiday SmiShing -- “SMiSishing” is phishing via text message. Just like with email phishing, the scammer tries to lure you into revealing information or performing an action you normally wouldn’t do by pretending to be a legitimate organization.
  9. Phony E-tailers -- Phony e-commerce sites, that appear real, try to lure you into typing in your credit card number and other personal details, often by promoting great deals. But, after obtaining your money and information, you never receive the merchandise, and your personal information is put at risk.
  10. Fake charities -- This is one of the biggest scams of every holiday season. As we open up our hearts and wallets, the bad guys hope to get in on the giving by sending spam emails advertising fake charities.
  11. 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 your computer once you click on the link to view the greeting.
  12. 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, since these are most likely scams.

According to a global study commissioned by MSI International and McAfee, consumers place an average value of $37,438 on the “digital assets” they own across multiple digital devices, yet more than a third lack protection across all of those devices.

“Using multiple devices provides the bad guys with more ways to access your valuable 'Digital Assets,' such as personal information and files, especially if the devices are under-protected,” said Paula Greve, director at McAfee Labs. “One of the best ways for consumers to protect themselves is to learn about the criminals’ tricks, so they can avoid them. Beyond that they should have the latest updates of the applications on their devices in order to enjoy a safe online buying or other experience. We don’t want consumers to be haunted by the scams of holidays past, present and future -- they can’t afford to leave the door open to cyber-grinches during the busy holiday season.”

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.