It isn't just Santa's elves who get busy at this time of year.
Cybercriminals are gearing up to scam consumers during the holiday season, leveraging all types of digital devices, social media platforms and mobile apps to take advantage of consumers’ distraction during this festive and busy time of year.
Security giant McAfee says holiday shopping sales are expected to surge from last year to an estimated $616.9 billion. E-commerce sales are also predicted to rise between 8-11% this year -- to more than $105 billion, with 56% of smartphone owners planning to use their device while shopping. With 4 out of 5 U.S. households with Internet access conducting banking transactions online, being vigilant about safe online behavior this holiday season is more important than ever.
“As consumers shop, bank and share more while on the go, they open themselves up to threats from criminals who want to steal their personal information,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at McAfee. “Understanding what to watch out for and how to properly secure their devices gives consumers additional information to protect their digital lives.”
Here, then, are McAfee's “12 Scams of the Holidays”
- You’ve Got Mail! -- As holiday sales continue to migrate online, the risk for shipping notification and phishing scams are increasing. Though malware is a year-round risk, since many people do their holiday shopping online, consumers are more apt to click on a shipping notification or phishing e-mail because they think it is legit.
- Deceptive Advertising -- Everyone is searching for steals and deals during the holidays. Keep your eyes peeled (and your wallet in check) when online shopping for this season’s most coveted products. Dangerous links, phony contests on social media and bogus gift cards are just some of the ways scammers try to steal your personal information and ruin your holiday cheer.
- Chilling Charities -- ‘Tis the season for giving. During the holidays, many consumers give back by donating to their favorite charity. Sadly, no good deed goes unpunished. Be wary of fake charities that could reach you via email, or are shared virally through social media.
- Buyer Beware -- There are just some scams that you can’t help but fall victim to, unfortunately. Point of sale malware that leads to exposing credit card information falls into this category. Make sure you check your credit card statements vigilantly and stay on top of breaking news to be aware and prepared.
- iScams -- New mobile apps for Android and iOS devices are added every day. Thanks to the ongoing advancement of technology, your mobile device can control the temperature in your house, keep you connected to social media and add cool filters to your holiday photos. Even the most official-looking or festive apps could be malicious and access your personal information.
- Getting Carded -- Digital e-cards to spread the holiday cheer are fun, easy and most importantly, thoughtful. While you may want a loved one to send you “Season’s Greetings,” hackers are looking to wish you a “Merry Malware!” Well-known e-card sites are safe, but be wary of potential scams that cause you to download malware onto your device.
- Holiday Travel Scams -- With travel on the rise during peak holiday times, online scammers are ready to take advantage of the fact that consumers often become less vigilant about their safety. Fake online travel deal links are bountiful, but there are also risks that exist once you arrive at your destination including spyware that can access your information through logging onto infected PCs onsite.
- Bank Robocall Scam -- When holiday spending increases and consumers are aware of the abuse to their bank accounts and credit cards, hackers use this as an opportunity. In most cases, consumers receive a fake phone call from one of these institutions from an automated (or not) “security agent” stating that the user’s account has been compromised and requesting personal information including the account password, to make changes.
- ATM Skimming -- During the holiday season, you need cash and are usually in a rush to get it. Criminals can access your information at ATMs by installing skimming devices to steal the data off your card’s magnetic strip and either using a video camera or keypad overlay to capture your PIN. A simple solution: look carefully at your ATM for anything suspicious and cover the keypad when entering your PIN.
- Year in Review Traps -- Many news services capitalize on the holidays by developing “Year in Review” articles. Companies should warn their employees about the risks of clicking on these types of links from their work emails. Links from phony sources could infect and compromise the security of company devices.
- BYO…Device -- With an increase in travel, activity (and bubbly!) over the busy holiday season, people are more likely to forget their smart phones in public places. While inconvenient for them, it is also way for hackers to access sensitive personal information and business data if the appropriate security measures are not in place.
- Bad USB Blues -- During the holiday season, you may see an increase in gift baskets from vendors who want to continue doing business with your company in the upcoming year. One of the most popular items in these baskets includes branded USBs. Beware of allowing your employees to use these, as undetectable malware is sometimes pre-installed on them.
What to do
- McAfee is offering these safety tips to help you stay protected and ensure a happy and safe holiday season:
- Do your research -- Whether online shopping, donating to charities, or tracking your gifts, do your research to make sure the company you are working with is legitimate. Do an online search of the company you’re buying items from to see if there’s any news about recent risks. Go to the company’s homepage to make sure it is a genuine business. Instead of clicking on a link in an email for a shopping deal, visit the site directly.
- Analyze apps -- Before downloading a new app, review it to make sure you know exactly what you’re putting on your smartphone. Ddownload only apps from an official app store and not a third party. If the app requests too many permissions, do not download it. It may be requesting access to information on your phone that you would prefer to keep private, and certainly more information than it needs. Use antivirus software.
- Bank carefully -- People are spending more money during the holidays than they do all year. Cyber criminals may try and use this fact to more easily scam consumers. If your bank calls requesting information, hang up and call them back through the official main phone number. It’s important to talk to your banker through the official number so you know it is legitimate. When withdrawing money, be aware of your surroundings. Check to make sure that you are in a safe place to enter your information. If anything looks amiss, leave. Inspect the ATM for loose wires or machine parts that may have been tampered with. This could indicate hackers trying to fix the machine for their benefit.
- Stay informed -- Holiday season or not, cyber scams and identity theft happen very frequently throughout the year. Now that shopping season has begun and the danger is heightened, it is important to constantly be aware of new cyber-attacks or threats in the marketplace. Follow breaking news stories for new security breaches to stay alert and be on top of your game. Shop for holiday gifts only at retailers you know have not been compromised. Check your credit card statements often to make sure that you were not affected.
Educate your employees
You’ll want to make sure your employees know how to protect themselves, and their devices with your sensitive company information at all times, but especially during this hectic holiday travel and shopping season when devices are more likely to get misplaced and people let their guard down.
Ensure devices are secured with complex passcodes to allow access to smartphones, tablets or laptops.
Share the most common scams that exist around the holidays with your employees so they know what to be on the lookout for and how to stay protected.
If you do plan to search for deals online, use apps or open shopping related emails, make sure your entire household’s devices have protection.