Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

The 12 (Cyber) Scams Of Christmas – 2011 Version

We are now in prime cyber crime season, and the experts all predict this year will be the worst yet. Here are one security company’s Top 12 scams to be on the lookout for this holiday season, and some tips for protecting yourself. There are changes from last year’s list, so please take a look.

McAfee’s 12 Scams of Christmas

1. Mobile Malware: 

A recent National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, dated October 19, found that 52.6 percent of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone said they will be using their device for holiday-shopping related activities—whether it’s to research products, redeem coupons, or purchase holiday gifts. Malware targeted at mobile devices is on the rise, and Android smartphones are most at risk. McAfee cites a 76 percent increase in malware targeted at Android devices in the second quarter of 2011 over the first, making it the most targeted smartphone platform.

New malware has recently been found that targets QR codes, a digital barcode that consumers might scan with their smartphone to find good deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, or just to learn about products they want to buy.

2. Malicious Mobile Applications:

These are mobile apps designed to steal information from smartphones, or send out expensive text messages without a user’s consent. Dangerous apps are usually offered for free, and masquerade as fun applications, such as games. For example, last year, 4.6 million Android smartphone users downloaded a suspicious wallpaper app that collected and transmitted user data to a site in China.

3. Phony Facebook Promotions and Contests:

Who doesn’t want to win some free prizes or get a great deal around the holidays? Unfortunately, cyberscammers know that these are attractive lures and they have sprinkled Facebook with phony promotions and contests aimed at gathering personal information.

A recent scam advertised two free airline tickets, but required participants to fill out multiple surveys requesting personal information.

4. Scareware, or Fake Antivirus software:

Scareware is the fake antivirus software that tricks someone into believing that their computer is at risk—or already infected—so they agree to download and pay for phony software. This is one of the most common and dangerous Internet threats today, with an estimated one million victims falling for this scam each day. In October 2010, McAfee reported that scareware represented 23% of all dangerous Internet links, and it has been resurgent in recent months.

5. Holiday Screensavers:

Bringing holiday cheer to your home or work PC sounds like a fun idea to get into the holiday spirit, but be careful. A recent search for a Santa screensaver that promises to let you “fly with Santa in 3D” is malicious.  Holiday-themed ringtones and e-cards have been known to be malicious too.

6. Mac Malware:

Until recently, Mac users felt pretty insulated from online security threats, since most were targeted at PCs. But with the growing popularity of Apple products, for both business and personal use, cybercriminals have designed a new wave of malware directed squarely at Mac users. According to McAfee LabsTM, as of late 2010, there were 5,000 pieces of malware targeting Macs, and this number is increasing by 10 percent month on month.

7. Holiday Phishing Scams:

Phishing is the act of tricking consumers into revealing information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do online using phony email or social media posts. Cyberscammers know that most people are busy around the holidays so they tailor their emails and social messages with holiday themes in the hopes of tricking recipients into revealing personal information.

• A common holiday phishing scam is a phony notice from UPS, saying you have a package and need to fill out an attached form to get it delivered. The form may ask for personal or financial details that will go straight into the hands of the cyberscammer.
• Banking phishing scams continue to be popular and the holiday season means consumers will be spending more money—and checking bank balances more often. From July to September of this year, McAfee Labs identified approximately 2,700 phishing URLs per day.
• Smishing –SMS phishing—remains a concern. Scammers send their fake messages via a text alert to a phone, notifying an unsuspecting consumer that his bank account has been compromised. The cybercriminals then direct the consumer to call a phone number to get it re-activated—and collects the user’s personal information including Social Security number, address, and account details.

8. Online Coupon Scams:

An estimated 63 percent of shoppers search for online coupons or deals when they purchase something on the Internet, and recent NRF data (October 19, 2011) shows that consumers are also using their smartphones (17.3 percent) and tablets (21.5 percent) to redeem those coupons. But watch out, because the scammers know that by offering an irresistible online coupon, they can get people to hand over some of their personal information.

• One popular scam is to lure consumers with the hope of winning a “free” iPad/iPhone. Consumers click on a “phishing” site, which can result in email spam and possibly dealing with identify theft.

I get one of these almost every day...

• Consumers are offered an online coupon code and once they agree, are asked to provide personal information, including credit-card details, passwords and other financial data.

9. Mystery Shopper Scams:

Mystery shoppers are people who are hired to shop in a store and report back on the customer service.  Sadly, scammers are now using this fun job to try to lure people into revealing personal and financial information.  There have been reports of scammers sending text messages to victims, offering to pay them $50 an hour to be a mystery shopper, and instructing them to call a number if they are interested.  Once the victim calls, they are asked for their personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers.

10.  Hotel “Wrong Transaction” Malware Emails:

Many people travel over the holidays, so it is no surprise that scammers have designed travel-related scams in the hopes of getting us to click on dangerous emails. In one recent example, a scammer sent out emails that appeared to be from a hotel, claiming that a “wrong transaction” had been discovered on the recipient’s credit card.  It then asked them to fill out an attached refund form. Once opened, the attachment downloads malware onto their machine.

11.  “It” Gift Scam:

Every year there are hot holiday gifts, such as toys and gadgets, that sell out early in the season. When a gift is hot, not only do sellers mark up the price, but scammers will also start advertising these gifts on rogue websites and social networks, even if they don’t have them.  So, consumers could wind up paying for an item and giving away credit card details only to receive nothing in return. Once the scammers have the personal financial details, there is little recourse.

12. “I’m away from home” Scammers:

Posting information about a vacation on social networking sites could actually be dangerous.  If someone is connected with people they don’t know on Facebook or other social networking sites, they could see their post and decide that it may be a good time to rob them.  Furthermore, a quick online search can easily turn up their home address.

We don’t want consumers to be haunted by the scams of holidays past, present and future,” said Jim Walter, manager at McAfee Labs. “With the increase in malware and other attacks on smartphones, tablets and Macs, users need to stay vigilant and ensure they protect all of their devices, not just their home PC – they can’t afford to leave the door open to cyber-grinches during the busy holiday season.

How to Protect Yourself
Internet users can protect themselves from cybercrime with the following quick tips from McAfee:

• Only download mobile apps from official app stores, such as iTunes and the Android Market, and read user reviews before downloading them.
• Be extra vigilant when reviewing and responding to emails.
• Watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers on social networks (like free airline tickets). Never agree to reveal your personal information just to participate in a promotion.
• Don’t accept requests on social networks from people you don’t know in real life. Wait to post pictures and comments about your vacation until you’ve already returned home.

I am not sure I agree with the order they chose to put these in.. but I assure you this is good information here.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. <<

November 29, 2011 - Posted by | advice, cyber crime, hackers, how to, Internet, security | , ,


  1. Thanks Paul…some good reminders here…I sent this post
    out to many.


    Comment by Gaia | November 30, 2011 | Reply

    • Gaia,
      I am very glad to hear that, and commend you for “looking out” for your friends and family. Education (being aware) does stop these scammers, but there are plenty (millions and millions) of uneducated.. we have to spread the word.


      Comment by techpaul | November 30, 2011 | Reply

  2. Great article; though, not a fan girl of McAfee. Lots of sage advice there. NEVER use the website or phone number FROM the the email to contact the company.

    Use common sense..use common sense….can’t say that enough.

    As for your PC, check this out. Probably the Best Free Security List in the World It has everything. I got 20 more days left on my ZA firewall. I am sick of the bloat ware so I will checking out the firewall section out. Gonna spend my money else where or get something free.

    Why does a company think they HAVE to keep adding things to their really good program until they break it? Suites are the scourge of the internetz. Jack of all trades and master of NONE. I get so irked. If you want to add them to a suite, fine. But leave an option to get the one program as a standalone. PLEASE!


    Comment by delenn13 | November 30, 2011 | Reply

    • delenn13,
      I am no fan of McAfee’s (current) consumer anti-malware programs, and that has been true for a couple of years now. However, I have nothing but regard for the people there.

      And since I am writing for “everyone” here (all levels), I prefer to point people to Gizmo’s Gizmo’s Security Advice Wizard than to his list (and I have my own list, here, though I haven’t updated it recently..) as it guides user to the right choices based on their usage. That said, I encourage people to click the link you provided — if you don’t know Gizmo.. you should get acquainted!

      I used to feel about the suites as you did, but I have come to believe they are the best answer for certain types of users. Currently, and this has been true for several years now, my choice of suites is Norton.
      Which some time back now, I wouldn’t have on my system if you paid me big $$$. The antivirus scene is always changing, and last year’s top product may be this year’s worst.. nature of the beast.


      Comment by techpaul | November 30, 2011 | Reply

  3. Interesting post, I can only see smart phone crime on the increase as more people are using them to shop online with. And how many people consider safety as much when on a mobile browser? I bet there’s some gaping holes.


    Comment by Helen Clough | December 8, 2011 | Reply

    • Helen Clough,
      It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of users are (blissfully?) ignorant of the dangers of connecting computers to the Internet; and the numbers indicate that this is even more true when it comes to “mobile devices”.


      Comment by techpaul | December 8, 2011 | Reply

Post your Comment/Question

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: