The 12 scams of Christmas

A beautiful red gift with Christmas ornaments

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%Online security firm McAfee has revealed 12 festive scams to be wary of in the lead up to Christmas.
This Christmas many of us will be using computers, smartphones and tablets to help manage the demands of the festive season.

But going digital offers cyber crooks an opportunity to use scams tailored to the season in order to steal personal information for identity fraud and spread malicious software.

McAfee, the online security firm, has revealed what it believes to be the '12 scams of Christmas' to help shoppers keep safe when browsing, clicking and buying online.

Here's what to watch out for.

1. Mobile app scams

The festive season often prompts the launch of new mobile apps, promising to make Christmas shopping easier. But McAfee warns that shoppers should think twice about downloading official-looking software, as apps can carry malware designed to steal personal data. McAfee suggests sticking to official app stores for safety.

2. Text scams

Should your mobile number get into the wrong hands you might be exposed to a text scam. A crafty crook can send text messages promising free gifts or prizes. But following the link might encourage you to share personal details that can leave you exposed to identity theft, or ask you to download something that contains malware that infects your device.

FakeInstaller, for example, is a malicious piece of code which tricks Android users into believing it's an installer for an application. But it can quickly take advantage of unrestricted access to your phone, sending text messages to premium rate numbers.

Keep your mobile phone number private and an eye on your phone bill for unusual charges to combat this scam.

3. Gift scams

Adverts with offers on must-have items like the new PlayStation 4 or Xbox One are sure to attract Christmas shoppers. Cyber fraudsters will post links to fake competitions using social media or send phishing emails offering great deals to get people to reveal personal information or download malware onto their devices.

If a deal seems too good to be true then it probably is! Be suspicious of really low prices and avoid stores you've never heard of.

4. Festive travel scams

Travel is a big part of the festive period and many will be looking for the best deals online. Cyber thieves are well aware of this and use bogus offers for great deals to trick bargain hunters into entering credit card details and other private information.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), around 1,000 holiday scams were reported in Britain last year, costing holidaymakers more than £1.5 million. Again be wary of unrealistically low prices on flights, rental cars and hotel rooms and only use reputable travel sites.

Use a 0% purchase credit card to help handle the cost of Christmas

5. Dangerous E-card greetings

E-cards are a fun and cheap way to send season's greetings to family and friends. But scammers are able to send fake versions that contain 'merry malware' such as Trojan and other viruses.

These infect your smartphone, tablet or computer when you click the link or attachment to view the greeting. It's better to be safe than sorry so don't open an e-card if you don't know the sender.

6. Deceptive online games

Downloading games for your computer, smartphone or tablet could be another source of misery over the festive period. According to McAfee many sites offering full-version downloads of Grand Theft Auto are 'laden' with malware and integrated social media pages can expose gamers too.

Stick to safe, well-known app stores when downloading games and check online for reviews beforehand for warnings from less fortunate gamers.

7. Shipping notification shams

Ordering things like gifts and food online means you'll be getting plenty of shipping notifications, so beware fake emails asking you to update your details. These can carry malware and other harmful software designed to infect your devices.

Retailers never normally have to contact you about your details. You should be on the lookout for email addresses that aren't quite right, as well as spelling and grammar mistakes.

Read Retailers' last order dates for Christmas deliveries to make sure you get your delivery in time.

8. Bogus gift cards

If you're planning on buying a gift card for a loved one, make sure it's official. Gift card deals are sometimes promoted via ads on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. These third-party websites might be selling bogus gift cards that will leave the recipient red-faced when trying to cash it in.

You're better off going direct to a retailer.

Read Gift cards that are safe from retailers going bust

9. Holiday SMiShing

Mobile phones and tablets come with the risk of SMiShing or text message phishing.

Scam artists pretend to be banks or other organisations that require your personal information urgently for 'security purposes' to avoid an account lockdown or other dire consequences. Some even include the first few digits of your credit card number in the SMS message to lull you into a false sense of safety. Instead of replying you should contact the organisation directly if you have any concerns.

Get paid by your bank – switch to a top account

10. Fake charities

The festive season can move people to reach out to those less fortunate, but scammers are on hand to take full advantage of this generosity, setting up fake charity sites to pocket donations. Be on the lookout for bogus charities using copied text and logos in emails or on websites.

Most use a name, email address or web address that is almost identical to a real charity, so it's easy to be caught out.

11. Romance scams

Cyber criminals can use photos, emails and even text messages to pretend to be a member of a dating website. Messages may contain phishing scams where the person can access your personal information such as usernames and passwords or worse your device might get infected by malware.

To avoid this fate only use reputable dating site, be on the lookout for fake profiles, and never click on links from someone you don't already know or trust.

12. Phoney e-tailers

If you plan to do most of your Christmas shopping online, beware of fake websites posing as legitimate retailers. In October brand protection specialist MarkMonitor revealed that one in five shoppers looking for a bargain online have been duped by fake sites. You should check names and web addresses carefully for subtle differences that indicate the site is a fake and wherever possible limit your shopping to known and trusted names.

Get something back from your Christmas shopping with a cashback credit card

The biggest scams of 2013
See Gallery
The 12 scams of Christmas
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.

They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.

This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.

This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.

This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.

The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.

As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.

The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.

Related stories

Drivers warned over crash scams
Warning over 'vishing' call scam
Student's Facebook hacked and used by scammers
Read Full Story