You should always stay vigilant online as there are so many ways to be caught out by criminals looking to take your money or identity. Janus R. Nielsen from www.mysecuritycenter.com explains some of the traps to avoid. Beware of Christmas internet scams 2012:
A report from Facebook earlier this year showed that there are about 83 million fake profiles on Facebook. At the same time, Christmas is the time of year when we have a golden opportunity to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. This combination means that you should be extra careful not to accept requests from people you do not know.
If a scammer has managed to get your acceptance for a friend request and then gets you to install a fake application, he can send mails, links and apps out to all your contacts. You must also be careful about what links you click on, or what apps you install, even if they turn up on your friend's wall.
2: Digital Christmas cards
Digital Christmas cards are a popular and easy way to send others a warm greeting. However, think for a moment before clicking the link. If it's a scam, the link might take you to a website that installs spyware on your computer, so that your personal information will be registered. Make sure you know the sender and be especially wary if the text in the email is written in poor English.
3: Online shopping
More and more people choose to shop for their Christmas gifts online, and therefore we will see an increase in fake web shops at Christmas time, selling high class products at very low prices. Typically, you'll see brands like Ralph Lauren, Canadian Goose and Mulberry, but it can also be sunglasses, designer shoes or expensive electronic equipment that is sold at too good to be true prices.
In order not to end up giving your credit card information to the wrong people, and even wait in vain for your purchases, you should do a little research before you finish your purchase.
Look carefully after the site's URL, since almost all of the domains are .com, but uk, english, British, England, Britain is often combined with the product sold, e.g. mulberryuk.com. Another danger signal is the language. Stay away if the site is written in bad English and filled with errors.
Look for contact information such as phone numbers, address and VAT numbers - they are often non- existent. Finally, discounts of up to 70 percent on quality brands are often unrealistic. Check prices on price comparison sites such as Pricerunner.co.uk. And remember, if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
Phishing attempts are very common at Christmas time, and the scammers' creativity is impressive. Phishing is a method that aims to entice you to actively give your confidential information out so that fraudsters can gain access to credit card details, bank accounts, passwords and more in order to steal money from you. Here are some examples of typical Christmas phishing tricks:
- Confirm your information
Your bank, Pay Pal or credit card provider sends you an email asking you to verify your account by entering login details and credit card information. It can also be an email stating that a certain amount has been drawn of your account for a Christmas gift you never bought, and that you must click on a link to cancel.
If you do so, a spyware program will often be installed on your computer so fraudsters can watch 0everything you do, including typing in your usernames and passwords. A good rule to keep in mind is that serious companies will never ask you to confirm sensitive information in an email, so delete anything like this if it lands in your inbox. Contact the company directly if you are unsure.
Many people want to make a difference for others during the Christmas season, but be wary if you are approached by charities, asking for donations. The money often does not go to ensure clean water in Tanzania, but directly in the Internet criminals' pockets. If you do want to donate, contact the organisation directly.
- Christmas Lottery
Congratulations! You have won a million dollars in the Christmas lottery! Of course you haven't - you didn't even buy a ticket. So, don't be tempted to click on a link to verify your information, or transfer a small amount to the scammers so they can complete the transfer. Delete these emails or text messages immediately.
5: Mobile apps and ringtones
Fake apps on Android phones in particular is a growing problem, and during the Christmas season the problem will be even larger. You'll see Christmas games and ringtones with Christmas songs.
Many of them can be harmful and install viruses on your smartphone. Check reviews and user comments about the app before you download it and read the conditions carefully to know what you give the app access to. If there are no reviews of the app, you should stay away from it. If you have an Android phone, it might be a good idea to install an antivirus program from companies such as MYMobileSecurity, AVG or Lookout.
6: Christmas Auctions
Who doesn't want to bag a bargain for Christmas? Beware of the fake auctions that crop up at Christmas time and advertise with iPad Mini, iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III for £10. Many of these "penny auction" sites are not based on bids from real people, but from programs that bring the prices artificially up, and if you are the lucky one who gets to buy the product, you'll be even luckier if you actually receive it. Again, check telephone numbers and contact information and read the fine print, if you want to try and buy something on a penny auction site.
7: Christmas holidays
Many people use the holidays for travelling, but beware if you suddenly receive an email regarding a hotel booking that you don’t remember making. Clicking on the attachment to see what it is about puts your computer at risk of being infected with spyware or viruses. The problem isn't new, but lately we have seen known hotel search engines such as booking.com infected by scammers. We recommend you take a closer look if there are any emails with attachments that you know nothing about and that you always use an up-to-date antivirus program.
8: Credit Cards
Christmas is a time when we all put purchased on credit cards. Our advice is to always consider credit cards as cash because in the Internet criminal's eyes there is no difference. Look for official signs for safe payment when you shop online. The web page server must be approved by PBS: this ensures that unauthorised people cannot intercept your credit card information. It is also a guarantee that it uses a secure SSL connection, so all information relating to the payment is transferred encrypted.
Janus R. Nielsen, CEO and security expert of MYSecurityCenter, that provides antivirus and PC optimisation software for home users. At www.mysecuritycenter.com you can try the different packages out for free.