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Internet & Telephone Blog

The 12 Scams of the Holidays


Author: MJ Shoer

The following was published in the December 21st edition of Seacoast Sunday.
Building on the theme of the 12 Days of Christmas, McAfee, which describes itself as the world’s largest security company and a part of technology pioneer Intel Corporation, has published a great reminder of scams to be on the lookout for at this time of year. Cutely named “The 12 Scams of the Holidays,” here is what you want to be on the lookout for…
1. You’ve got mail, but not the kind of mail you want to receive. If you are doing a lot of online shopping this season, be very careful about what e-mail messages you open and be especially careful about what links you click within e-mail messages. With so much holiday shopping being done online, your Inbox is likely to be flooded with order confirmation, payment receipt, shipping confirmations and more. Before you open these messages, be certain that you have actually ordered something from the company sending you the e-mail. If the message says it’s from Amazon.com, be sure the sending address is actually amazon.com and not some strange variations like amazonorders.zulu.biz. Don’t get tricked. Take the extra moment to be sure the sender is legitimate. I even recommend you learn how to inspect e-mail headers to be absolutely certain the sender is legitimate. You also don’t want to be too quick to click that shipment tracking link. Hover over the link and be sure it’s really taking you to FedEx, UPS or the shipper you expect. Don’t click the link if you don’t think it’s legitimate.
2. Deceptive advertising. Don’t fall for deals that are just too good to be true or aren’t from reputable sellers. That deal may just be the hook that’s looking to reel in your personal information and steal it for nefarious use. Better to pay a few dollars more and be sure of what you are purchasing than go for that “too good to be true” deal and wind up having your identity stolen. That great deal just cost you far more than you thought you were saving.
3. Chilling charities. The number of online charities has exploded and in most cases, this is a good thing. It’s easier than ever for charities to reach their audiences and solicit for needed donations. Unfortunately, this also makes it easier for less than ethical individuals to market fake charities for the simple purpose of stealing your donation dollars. Do your research and be sure the charity you are donating to is legitimate.
4. Buyer beware. There have been far too many data breaches of point-of-sale terminals at well-known retailers this year. Check your credit card statements often and consider setting up alerts to notify you of charges above a certain dollar amount. If you are at all concerned about this issue, consider setting yourself up with a credit monitoring service that will watch all your accounts and proactively notify you if they suspect something may not be right.
5. Sorry, no golden rings this time. It’s iScams. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, apps are where it’s at. Be sure you are only downloading apps from the operating system’s app store. You should never load an app directly on to your phone via other means, as this skirts the manufacturer’s controls and scanning for malicious apps. With smartphones and tablets acting as payment devices, digital wallets and able to control security systems and other automation devices, you don’t want to risk putting anything malicious onto these devices.
6. Getting carded. Be careful when opening eCards. You might want to ask the sender if they really sent it before you open it. While it’s very convenient to send and receive gift cards and greeting cards electronically, these are also big targets for hackers looking to trick you into opening an e-mail that they will use to try to install malware on your computer.
7. Holiday travel scams. Just like any deal, if that airfare is less than you’ve paid in the last two years or you get three free nights for every night at the Ritz, think before you click. If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. It’s really that simple.
8. Bank robocall scam. Never, ever believe a caller who calls you and tells you your computer is infected and they want you to go to a website and click a link to connect with them to remotely fix it. Microsoft is not calling you to help you fix your computer. It doesn’t do that, nor does any other major brand company. They’re smart, but they’re not that smart. Ask yourself how they would really know you are having a problem. They don’t. It’s a scam, plain and simple.
9. ATM skimming. This is a bad one. Especially if you use ATMs in gas stations or other non-bank locations, be sure to check to see if the card reader is actually a skimmer. A skimmer is a device that looks like a normal card reader, but it’s installed by criminals right in front of the real card reader. When you insert your ATM card, the skimmer reads and records your card information and then sends your card forward into the real reader. There is usually also a camera that doesn’t belong there, positioned on the ATM machine so that it can see you enter your PIN. The criminal either comes back later to retrieve the skimmer and camera and the stolen data they have recorded or they are close by to receive a wireless transmission of the data and they are off to the races with your ATM card and PIN. If the card reader is loose or just doesn’t look right, don’t use it.
10. Year in review traps. This time of year, everyone seems to be publishing their “Year in Review.” Some of these may be malicious and clicking the links may install malware on your computer, so be careful with what you read online.
11. BYO…Device. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, don’t forget to keep tabs on your smartphone. Don’t leave it around at parties or other public locations outside your home. With all the sensitive data stored on smartphones these days, we should be treating them like our wallets. We would not leave our wallet on the table at a restaurant while we went to the restroom, nor should you with your smartphone, even if it’s at your friend’s house during book club.
12. Bad USB blues. Be wary of that free USB drive that arrives in the mail as “our gift to you” or is handed to you as a promo. These are one of the easiest ways that hackers spread their version of holiday cheer, except it won’t make you at all happy.
Enjoy the holiday season safely. The lights in and on our homes at this special time of year are a special gift that we give to each other. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. As this is my last Tech Talk of 2014, I would also like to wish you a very Happy New Year. Thanks for reading this year and I hope you will continue reading in 2015.
MJ Shoer is president and virtual chief technology officer of Jenaly Technology Group, Inc., Your Technology Concierge based in Portsmouth. He maintains a blog about business IT issues at https://www.itllc.net and he may be reached at mshoer@jenaly.com.


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