Avoiding Last Minute Holiday Scams

A new holiday phishing scam is spreading...

A new holiday phishing scam is spreading and all of us need to be on alert for it. As reported by Microsoft, the scam is in the form of an email with a subject like Christmas Party or Holiday Schedule or something fun that encourages the recipient to open the email and an attached Word document. It appears to come from one of your contacts, so it looks legitimate.  Don’t do it; the Word document downloads a well-known, dangerous piece of malware. One version downloads your contact file, giving more names for more scam emails. A good virus checker will catch many of the emails, but anything that looks like this should shout a warning, especially if it requires you to “enable editing” to view the email. Delete any suspicious email and contact the purported sender directly. Warning; there is also a “support Greta Thunberg” email currently that distributes the same phishing malware. Read more here.

In addition, there are a number of holiday-focused scams that keep reliably popping up, year after year:

Secret Sister and the Wine Exchange Variation. This is a Facebook scam that’s been around since 2015. The promise is something like “if you give one gift, you’ll get 36 in return.”

That is a pyramid scheme and it is illegal. If the Facebook user accepts the invitation, she (and, yes, the scam is targeted at women) will be asked for personal information and given a list of unknown people to whom she’s supposed to send gifts. The hope is that the recipients will also send gifts and keep the scheme going. When it fizzles out, and pyramid schemes invariably do, the user is left with bills for gifts, a lot of wasted time, and no gifts in return. Please don’t accept the invitation and please, please don’t share it. Sharing is how this type of illegal scheme keeps going.

Popular Toy Scams. Translate that “scam that offers sold-out toys.” Popular toys sell out quickly before Christmas. A search will often reveal one or more websites that offers toys that cannot be obtained at mainline retailers. Sometimes they even offer “deals.” All this is bogus. No toys will be sent and the website will have disappeared when the purchaser tries to get a refund. If trusted retailers don’t have the toy, no one else will have it either.

Social Media Ad Scams. None of the platforms makes a serious attempt to regulate fraudulent ads and the Better Business Bureau says there are a number of different kinds. Be careful of unknown sites that sweeten their offer with a charity contribution. Research before you buy. Free trial offers may be covers for expensive automatic shipping plans that are only found in the fine print. There is much counterfeit merchandise available, including on Amazon. If the price is too good to be true, it is. Poor customer service is a year-round problem. Research unknown sites and look at their contact information. The BBB says that only a form for contact is a red flag. Don’t download apps from ads. They may contain various types of malicious activities like stealing data or charging for expensive recurring shipments.

E-card scams.  There are a number of good, legitimate sites with appealing ecards. E-cards also provide opportunities for scammers. If the sender’s name is not visible, if personal information is required in order to open it, or if it looks cheap or otherwise suspicious, don’t open it. Another important sign is that the URL has an exe extension. That means the email includes a program that can be run on your computer, doing things like downloading malware.

Scams that I’ve already written about include:

Gift cards.

Fake websites and pop-up stores.

Remember, if the offer seems too good to be true, it undoubtedly is. Protect yourself by not accepting questionable offers and protect the people you care about by not sharing them. Scamming people out of their hard-earned money has always been a favorite criminal activity, partly because they rarely get caught. Now the problem is that social media makes it a lot easier and ups the volume many-fold. Whether it’s an offer in an email or whether it’s in a social media ad, just move on without accepting or sharing the offer. Even if the offer is from someone you know and trust, check carefully to be sure that person isn’t sharing a scam offer.

Then enjoy your holiday communications feeling safe and secure!


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