Technology fuels holiday scammers

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Holiday scams

The holiday season brings out the best in most of us: gifts for family, friends, and co workers; donations to needy community or national charities. For a small but productive group, however, the holiday season is a scammer’s mid-winter dream. 

To a degree that has always been true; however, technology and social media make it so much easier to pick your digital pocket.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is warning consumers to be more vigilant than usual on everything from emailed holiday cards to charitable solicitations. 

Here are some scams to keep an eye out for:

Order confirmations: The average person is expected to spend $1,048 on gifts this season, according to the National Retail Association; about 54% will be purchased online, reports Price Waterhouse Coopers. Phishing scams will take advantage of this flurry of online shopping by sending fake confirmation emails. Those emails will include a link where you can see the bogus purchase and reach customer service to dispute the order.

That’s the hook. You may get a page that looks like the retailer’s site asking you for information to find your order. That’s the get. Of course, you or someone else in your household may have legitimately placed the order. But the way to confirm it is to go to separately to the retailer site and check your order history, or call the company customer service number as it appears on their legit website. 

There are other email scams designed to get you to give up personal information. Keep in mind scammers may already have information about you. Particularly in identity-theft scams, cyber criminals will build profiles, and any piece of information they can add to yours can bring them one step closer. Experts say hackers are more organized than most of us think: they share information among themselves; patiently build databases; collect anything they can; and figure out how to use it later. That’s why, by all objective criteria, they are winning.

App scams: I am an Apple user myself for many reasons. But a big one is that its app-development rules result in much safer, better-functioning mobile applications. Non-Apple platforms do not test or review applications for malware or functionality. Developers can just put their apps in the store and it is up to the user to be cognizant of the risks.

That’s a tough spot to be in. There are email scams that capitalize on that and push users to download shopping apps — potentially even looking like they come from a respected retailer. Even clicking on these links can be dangerous; but definitely be cautious before installing and setting up accounts on any apps like this.

Fantastic deals: As much as I think I know about this stuff, I have fallen for some scams myself. Really incredibly cheap Oakley sunglasses got me a few Christmases ago. About halfway through a purchase, after wandering around an Oakley-lookalike website for 30 minutes, I realized what I was doing (by confirming the actual web address I was on). When you go to a website, you are downloading content. So it doesn’t matter if you filled out a form — just browsing may have downloaded malware to your system.

What to do? As soon as you realize your error, quarantine your computer (unplug the network cable to keep any malware from propagating to other connected devices). With the computer offline flush your browser cache and history, delete any temporary files, restart your Windows computer in Safe Mode, run a virus scan, removing anything that comes up. You can prevent bigger problems by taking positive steps quickly. Steps with screen grabs are here. 

Charitable giving: This past week, we celebrated the eighth year of Giving Tuesday. Last year, this global movement raised $380 million in the U.S. alone. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are confronted with a constant flow of emails, letters, social media memes, and Go Fund Me pleas. Check out charities’ validity on Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar. As always, don’t click on the links in emails, especially for donations. Find the charity’s website, type the link into your browser, and make your donation. Pay by credit card, not debit card. It’s easier to dispute if you find you’ve been scammed.

Be alert to scammer behavior: They may ask you to buy gift cards that they’ll distribute to needy people. Don’t. They may try to rush you with artificial deadlines. Don’t. They may promise tax deductions. Check the IRS tax-exempt organizations search to confirm.

This and more information and links is courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission. There’s more to help you be a better/safer giver this holiday on their site.

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