Twelve Scams of Christmas Shopping

I plan to do most – if not all – of my holiday shopping online. Especially as more merchants offer free shipping it’s just not worth my time and gas to hunt down the items I want. I’m not alone. According to McAfee’s 2012 Holiday Shopping Survey, 70% of Americans plan to shop online using a computer, tablet, or smart phone. So, because someone had to be a wet blanket, McAfee also published The 12 Scams of Christmas, which looks at the risks of online shopping. We all know not to hand our credit card, social security card, or ID over to shady characters who ask for it when we are shopping in the real world. But, online, it’s harder to identify those shady characters. As Peter Steiner pointed out in the New Yorker back in 1993, “On the Internet, nobody know you’re a dog.”

I already skirted three of these this morning. They were pretty clever. And I’m that I’m afraid my mother or kids might fall for one of them. So it seemed like a good idea to share McAfee’s tips. I’m paraphrasing. But here they are.

1.      Social Media Scams

Scammers use the same social media channels you do to lure you to click on links that lead to fake sites. Once there, you will tempted to install apps that grab personal information, download malware, or give up your address, email address, or credit card number. Just because it looks like a direct message from a friend on Facebook or Twitter, doesn’t mean it is. Be just as wary as you would if this was an email. (You know email return addresses can be faked, right?)

2.      Bad Apps

Humans have downloaded 25 million apps for Android alone. Whew! I’m crazy for apps, too. But I’m also careful. A recent study found that 33% of apps ask for more data than they need. So be sure to download official apps, check the user reviews, and glance at the apps permission policy before your download. McAfee offer its Mobile Security program as further protection.

3.      Travel Scams

Found an awesome deal on a too-good-to-be-true hotel price over the holidays? Are you sure that’s not a scam? Scammers know you are shopping for travel. And they are motivated and clever. Watch out when you shop. And watch out when you connect to Wi-Fi while traveling, too. Ask for the name of the Wi-Fi network at your hotel or airport so you don’t connect to a fake one that’s grabbing all your data. Update your security software before you start shopping. Or try McAfee’s Site Advisor. It will give you an alert before you land on suspicious sites.

4.      Holiday Shopping Traps

You know what a phishing scam is, right? Well, those traps just keep getting better. Email from a merchant you often shop with an email-only deal? How about a great deal on exactly the thing you are looking for? Be careful. Don’t click links in email unless you are very sure of the source. In fact, how hard is it to just type in the url for the merchant?

5.      A Deal that’s Too Good to Pass Up

Great deals are always a red flag. But in this era of giveaways for the latest high-tech gadget, it can be hard to tell if that deal is real. Just be careful. Don’t download anything. Don’t give up personal information to qualify. Don’t pay for anything unless you are sure of the merchant.

6.      Skype Message Scare

Got a Skype message from someone asking if you that’s you in this picture – with a link? Yep. Me too. Don’t click. In fact, be sure you know the person sending the message before you give up any information or follow any links. Does your BFF usually ask for your social security number, credit card, or anything else? If not, call her and give it to her that way.

7.      Bogus Gift Cards

I think this the fake gift card – or something like it — even made it to a Sopranos episode. Buy gift cards from reliable sources. If the gift card you buy isn’t real, you just paid $50 for a piece of useless plastic. Good luck getting that money back.

8.      SMiShing

This is phishing via text message. If you click on a link – no matter how it was sent to you; IM, text, email, direct message – be wary. If it’s asking you to give up personal information, confirm account logins, or otherwise trick you into handing over the keys to your life, don’t. Your bank would not do this.

9.      Bogus eCommerce Sites

You went looking for a great price on a new iPad Mini and found it. It’s from a merchant you never heard of but the price is half what everyone else is charging…OK. You know better than this, right? Just because the site says it’s legitimate, does not make it so. Shop from merchants you know or can confirm somehow—reviews or friends maybe? Not sure? Don’t buy. Better safe than sorry.

10. Fake Charities

This one is very common. By all means, give. But do it through a charity you know and admire. Not one that popped up in response to a disaster, news story, or the holidays.

11. Dangerous e-Cards

Everyone loves e-cards. Scammers are no exception. Problem is, these cards can also download malware along with the cheesy graphic. Make sure they come from a site you are familiar with and are from a person you know. When in doubt, don’t click. If the sender uses a site you’ve never heard of, type in the url (especially if you have McAfee’s Site Advisor installed) of the card site first just to be sure.

12. Phony classifieds

There are so many scams that run over classifieds that you should go into high alert whenever shopping this way. Pay with cash, see the item before you buy, never wire money, don’t give up any personal information, and meet your new potential boss in person — after doing lots of research and telling lots of people where you are going. Just be super careful.