Feature Article
Mark Pribish
McAfee highlights the Top 12 Scams of Christmas
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

As a member of the Consumer Federation of America's (CFA) Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group, I was invited last year to write an article providing tips on keeping personal information safe during the holiday season (please read it here).

This year, I would like to highlight McAfee's 2012 Holiday Shopping Study (please see the study here) – where McAfee investigates the online habits and behaviors of Americans including those individuals who are using the Internet and mobile devices during the holiday shopping season.

In addition, McAfee highlights their Top 12 Scams of Christmas that criminals use to rip off individuals who shop online including the following:

  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.

To conclude, consumers share a lot of personal information during the holidays as they shop for gifts and communicate via social media, so it is important to remember to guard your personal information and privacy.

To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Central

Wake up Sleepy Head!

There is nothing worse than getting that middle-of-the-night phone call that disrupts your sleep and catches you mentally off-guard. Making a split-second financial decision in a foggy frame of mind is not what anyone ever expects to do. Yet, this is what is happening to some weary travelers staying in hotels. No, it's not a wakeup call; it's a scam!

How It Works:

In the still hours of the night, your hotel phone rings, rattling you out of a pleasant sleep. The person on the other end of the phone says they are from the front desk and there is a problem with the credit card you used to pay for your room. They want to resolve the situation immediately by getting a different card number to secure your room. Otherwise, they may have to kick you out of the room and possibly have you arrested for using a bad credit card. Talk about a wakeup call!

The person claiming to be from the front desk is actually a scam artist and a thief looking to get your credit card information. They are playing on your grogginess and fear with basic threats and intimidation tactics. Many people would have a knee-jerk reaction and simply give the caller the information they need. After all, nobody really wants to get dressed and go down to the front desk at 2:00 AM, and certainly nobody wants to go to jail.

Your Defense:

Don't let this type of scam rob you of anything other than a few moments of sleep. If you are able to keep your wits about you, sleep will be the only thing you lose.

When anyone calls your room claiming to be from the front desk, get the caller's name, hang up, and call the front desk yourself and ask for that individual. Also, when in doubt, it is always better to actually get dressed and head down to the front desk and address the situation in person, yes, even at 2:00 AM. You will either learn very quickly that nobody from the front desk called you, or that there actually is some issue with your card. However, if there truly were an issue with your card, the front desk would have caught that when they ran your card initially while you were checking in, and would not threaten to kick you out in the middle of the night.

If you are able to remember a neat little "turnabout is fair play" trick, you can tell the caller that you paid for the room with cash. If the caller is really a scammer, they may simply hang up, or redact their prior statements and say that they must have made a mistake and apologize for disturbing you. If that happens, report the incident to the real front desk as soon as possible. You may not be the only visitor disturbed that evening by a scammer.

And whatever you do, stay alert!

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.