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Security & privacy

9 clever ways cybercriminals want to steal your hard-earned cash this month

The holiday season is a time for celebration and spending with family. So, the last thing that you want to do is sit on the phone with your bank, trying to clear up unauthorized transactions. Tap or click here for examples of shopping scams spreading now and ways to protect your wallet.

Scammers plan for the holidays as much as you do, and if you are not vigilant, you could get caught up in a scheme that will cost your dearly. The best defense against hackers, scammers and cybercriminals is to be aware of their malicious acts.

While holiday scams tend to be similar each year, slight variations often can catch you off guard. Read on for some of the biggest scams that you need to watch out for this year.

Here’s the backstory

The most dangerous scams to look out for are the ones that steal your money or personal information. To help identify them, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has compiled a “naughty list” of the most prevalent scams that will be making an appearance this holiday season.

Here are the top schemes to avoid:

1. Social media advertising

When scrolling through your social media feed, you might come across posts from businesses that sell attractive products. Often, the ad you see also claims that a small percentage will go towards charity.

The BBB warns that you should be careful of these posts, as many users claim to have received fake products, items that weren’t as advertised or ended up subscribed to services with monthly fees. In fact, BBB says that online purchase scams were the most common fraud reported to its Scam Tracker tool last year.

2. Social media gift exchanges

An annual variation on a popular scam is enticing people to exchange gifts with strangers. The posts are common on social media, where it urges users to enter their email addresses to be included in the gift exchange mailing list.

Others will encourage users to send gift cards or items to the hosting company to be exchanged with the mailing list participants. The BBB warns that this is often a pyramid scheme, and very few receive anything. If you see posts this year relating to exchanging bottles of wine, books or even secret Santa for your dog, it’s most likely a scam.

3. Holiday-themed apps

You might still be a bit reluctant for your children to visit Santa at the local mall. The next best thing is to download an iOS or Android app to see Santa live. But many holiday-themed apps can be malicious.

Pro tip: Double-check the permissions on all apps to see what personal information they gather and which processes they have access to. Tap or click here to see the biggest mistakes you’re making with apps on your phone.

4. Compromised account alerts

Scammers want you to act quickly and irrationally when something goes wrong, which is why compromised account scams work so well for them. That’s why the BBB is warning of an uptick in reports claiming victims’ Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, or bank account has been compromised.

Pro tip: If you receive an email, phone call or text message about a compromised account, check with the company directly. Tap or click here for how scammers are impersonating Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming services.

5. Free gift cards

Scammers will often send out phishing emails that entice recipients to divulge their personal information in exchange for gift cards. Be very careful when you get an email like that, as you almost certainly won’t receive a gift card, and your personal information will be harvested. Microsoft did, however, send out real gift cards recently.

6. Temporary holiday jobs

Everybody likes to make a bit of extra cash over the holidays, but be aware of scams that require you to pay a fee for placement or one that seems too good to be true. Need holiday cash? Amazon is looking to fill 150K seasonal job openings.

7. Look-alike websites

Especially around Christmas, be wary of emails or text messages that promise incredible bargains from well-known stores. Scammers often create fake websites that look like the real thing.

The only difference? Once you pay for something, you’ll never receive it, and the store will disappear overnight. Tap or click here to spot a fake travel website.

Pro tip: Avoid purchasing items from websites that you don’t know. It is best to shop at retailers that you trust.

8. Fake charities

Christmas is the season for giving, and scammers want you to give them your money. By setting up fake charities, scammers can lure social media users into donating to a good cause. But because the website and charity are entirely bogus, the money will be going straight into the scammer’s pocket.

Pro tip: Before donating, do some research on the charity or donate to your favorite charity directly on its website.

9. Fake Shipping Notifications

Millions of gifts will be crisscrossing the country in the next few weeks. When you send a package, you will most likely receive a notification that it has been shipped.

But scammers have been using the same notification process to trick people into clicking a malicious link. The link leads to a request for personal data or requires a fee to cancel an order even though you didn’t place the order.

Pro tip: If you receive a shipping notification for an item you didn’t buy, check with the courier or retailer directly. Never click on a link if you don’t know the sender.

The BBB compiled a list of the 12 most dangerous scams making the rounds this year. To see the complete list, click here.

Keep reading

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