Scammers are out to get your money and steal your identity—behavior that's earned them a permanent spot on the naughty list. They've ramped up their efforts amidst the merriment of the holiday season, even tailoring their tactics for this time of year. Here are a few of their favorite festive methods of attack to watch out for:
- Emails claiming you won money from a contest or lottery
- Holiday themed e-cards or downloads, including jingles, screensavers or games
- Emails containing special offers on popular holiday gifts or that appear to be receipts
- Shipping notices for items that you didn't order
Messages and emails like these may contain viruses, worms, malware or Trojans designed to compromise your computer or mobile device. If you suspect you've received a message like this, immediately forward it to email@example.com.
Beyond keeping an eye out for suspicious emails, here are a few more tips to help you stay secure this season:
Shop only at online merchants you know and trust. Sure, that tech gift might be a bargain, but if it's not from an online merchant you trust, walk away. Before you enter any personal information on a website, verify that the URL contains 'HTTPS' and the lock icon appears in the browser. Also, avoid using public computers or public wireless connections to make purchases online.
Beware of links in emails. Scammers will attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by pretending to be a trustworthy website. An attack using this method is known as "phishing." Don't click links contained within an unsolicited email. Manually type in the website's URL rather than clicking on links contained in an email.
Don't respond to any spam mail that you receive. Most email spam is filtered into a spam or junk mail folder automatically, but some emails do slip through the filter. Avoid providing your personal information in emails regardless of who the sender is.
Come up with strong passwords for online accounts you create with retailers. If possible, avoid short passwords and mix numerals, letters (upper and lowercase), and symbols. As a general rule of thumb, don't use the same password for all accounts. And don't get lazy; change your passwords regularly!
Consider using two email addresses—one for family and friends, and another for shopping, social networks, and keeping track of electronic receipts. It's an easy way to protect you and your information.
Check your credit card and bank statements daily for any unauthorized charges. Keep an eye out for small charges. Scammers often test card validity by microcharging small amounts of $1 or $2 before making big purchases. A quick check of your statement can spare you months' worth of trouble.