The 12 scams of Christmas: McAfee warns SMEs to stay alert this holiday season

Scammers are ramping up their activity during the holiday season and SMEs need to be on guard so they aren’t duped into revealing confidential bank information or other types of private data, McAfee has warned.

The firm has released a list of the 12 most popular scams used during the holiday season, some of which included schemes to offer people “free” iPads, the creation of fake charities and stealing data through unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Sean Duca, sales and engineering manager for Australia and New Zealand, told SmartCompany scammers are ramping up activity as more people spend time online shopping and connecting with friends.

“They are definitely sending out heaps of stuff so they can fall into traps. A lot of the standard things we’ve been telling people to do are just make sure they have anti virus systems in place and upgrading security systems.”

But Duca also says people need to have a little bit of commonsense – don’t trust links from people you don’t know, and don’t download files from sites that seem dodgy or unsecure.

“If you look at the underlying principles of some of these deals, they’re often trying to trick people into thinking they are getting a fantastic deal. Often they aren’t, and they’re getting their credit card data stolen, or whatever.”

“These scams are often using whatever is popular at the time. So if you look at the iPad, that’s a hot gadget right now, and people are trying to create scams around that.”

McAfee recommends five key points to keep you and your business safe during the holiday season:

  • Stay on well-established and trusted sites.
  • Do not respond to any type of offer that arrives in emails, text messages or instant messages.
  • Preview any type of web address on a link before you click on it.
  • Stay away from vendors that are discounting extremely heavily.
  • Make sure to stay on trusted Wi-Fi networks, and if you aren’t sure then don’t check private data like bank accounts or other types of passwords.

“A lot of money is being lost this time of year, especially from small businesses trying to protect themselves. You might lose only $10 yourself from getting your card skimmed but if this goes out to 1,000 people, that’s a lot of money.”

Here are the 12 most popular scams you need to watch out for this year:

1. iPad offer scam

This scam occurs when users are asked to purchase other products on a site, and then provide their credit card number to get a free iPad. But the person never receives the iPad and the credit card numbers are then used for a spending spree.

Other versions of this scam have appeared where users take a quiz within a social media application, and then give out their mobile number to receive a free iPad. Instead, McAfee says they actually sign up for a scam SMS campaign that costs over $10 per week.

2. Help, I’ve been robbed!

Users are sent an email seemingly sent from a friend or family member, saying they are in trouble and need to be wired money instantly. McAfee says people need to watch out for this scam during the travel season as the dollar rises.

3. Fake gift cards

McAfee says social networks are rife with scams offering different type of gift cards in order to gain identification details, which are usually sold onto marketers. The company references a recent scam that offered a free $500 Myer gift card which actually contained a virus that skimmed bank account information.

4. Holiday job offers

These scams are particularly time-sensitive given everyone is now on holiday. These particular offers appear on Twitter, with messages promising work-at-home jobs that provide unusually high pay. If it’s too good to be true – then it is.

5. Smishing

Similar to “phising”, these types of scams use SMS texts to trick people into believing they have a problem with their bank account. They encourage users to send personal information in order to verify an account, but these are then used to steal data and money.

McAfee says these are particularly important to watch out for given people are spending so much time online and checking online bank balances.

6. Holiday rentals

Cyber criminals are often creating new holiday rental sites that actually ask for down payments. Of course, the rentals don’t exist.

7. GFC scams

The hurt of the GFC may be over but scammers are still trying to ride the wave of vulnerability. McAfee says it has seen a number of scams such as pay-in-advance credit schemes, low-interest loans and other types of financing deals.

8. Season’s greetings

You may not think e-cards are a scamming tool, but McAfee says users need to watch out. Instead of an innocent Christmas e-card, these messages are filled with viruses and malware designed to steal data.

9. Low prices

McAfee says scammers are now using different types of auction sites and other websites to give away “too good to be true” deals. They usually are.

10. Charity

With so much money being given to charities these times of year, McAfee says the increase in scams around Christmas time is to be expected. These scams involve phone calls and other types of emails encouraging you to donate to specific relief funds and other types of causes.

11. Holiday downloads

There are plenty of people searching for holiday-themed screen savers, desktop pictures and other types of fun animations, but McAfee says users need to carefully watch where these are downloaded from – they may contain harmful viruses

12. WiFi

This is perhaps one of the most serious scams. With so many people travelling through airports, users are taking advantage of different Wi-Fi points – but be extra careful. Hackers can take advantage of your system if you aren’t using a secure network.


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