With more than half of U.S. consumers expected to use smartphones for holiday shopping this season, cyber crooks are whipping up ways to sucker you into draining your bank account—from your PC at home to the palm of your hand.
When it comes to consumer scams, the Internet is any hacker’s virtual playground.
40 per cent of identity theft victims were targeted while making online purchases in 2011, according to an identity fraud report by Javelin Strategy & Research.
To help you protect yourself, we tapped Gary Davis, marketing director for antivirus software company McAfee, for tips on sniffing out 12 of the “hottest” scams this season.
Mobile phones are prime hunting grounds for hackers, Davis says.
Android users have the most to fear. The devices dominate the smartphone market, making them a lucrative target for hackers looking to hit as many consumers as possible, Davis says.
But all consumers should be on the look out for shady QR codes -- those little black and white boxes you can scan at stores to unlock deals on your phone. They can sometimes lead you to virus-ridden websites.
There are millions of apps available online and shady ones are sure to sneak through Google or Apple's systems.
Hackers love to dress up viruses as games or other fun apps, Davis says, but they're really designed to steal information from your phone or send out expensive text messages.
Be suspicious of free apps and research them before you even think about running your credit card, Davis advises. Try to purchase apps that have high user ratings and come from respected and well-known companies.
Hackers bait consumers with promises of free prizes or great holiday deals, but they're really coverups for bots that glean personal information from you.
Don't fill out any lengthy applications for contests or giveaways on sites like Facebook or Twitter--especially if they're asking for financial information, Davis says.
'If you see an offer, it should be from a credible company and you can go to that company's website and see if that promotion is there,' he adds.
More than 1 million consumers fall for scareware scams each day, McAfee has found.
This fake antivirus software tricks consumers into downloading malware cloaked as pricey upgrades to their existing antivirus software. Hackers are pros at mimicking the look and feel of legit software so you're more likely to be duped.
'None of the antivirus companies will use pop-ups in your browser to tell you that you've got a virus,' Davis says.
Hackers are making bank off tricking consumers into downloading festive (infected) screensavers to their computers and mobile phones.
More than 4 million Android users fell victim to a suspicious wallpaper app last year that wound up milling their phones for user data, according to McAfee.
Don't download a holiday screensaver until you've done your homework and made sure the software is reputable and well-reviewed.
It's a common misconception that Macs are unsusceptible to malware, Davis says.
Now that Apple has increased in popularity, hackers are starting to whip up thousands of viruses catered to Mac users.
The next time you crack open your laptop at a cafe or bookstore, be sure you're logging into a legitimate hotspot, Davis advises. Some hackers will create duplicate Wi-Fi networks at popular hotspots to lure unwitting consumers into logging onto their network.
Once they've got you where they want you, they can mill your computer for financial information, passwords and personal data.
Scammers trick consumers into forking over financial and personal information via phony emails or social media posts.
Don't answer any emails from mailing companies seeking personal information, Davis warns. Also, beware of SMS messages from banks requesting account information or telling you to call a phone number to reactivate your account.
Banks never alert consumers to fraud over text, so if you're unsure, call your bank before you respond.
The days of clipping coupons are long gone thanks to sites like Groupon and Living Social. But don't think cyber criminals aren't hip to the trend.
They pollute the web with seemingly incredible deals that lead consumers to malware-ridden websites or hit them up for personal information.
The most popular scam? Those 'Free' iPad ads that turned thousands of consumers into suckers last year.
'There should be no reason why a coupon should ask for financial information or anything of that nature,' Davis says.
Don't buy into con-artists who try to lure you into serving up your financial information in exchange for a gig as a mystery shopper.
'There have been reports of scammers sending text messages to victims, offering to pay them $50 an hour and instructing them to call a number if they are interested,' McAfee says.
But once you call, they pump you for credit card and bank account information and then do a little shopping of their own--on your dime.
After you've stayed at a hotel, a scammer will send an email under the hotel's name alerting you to a 'wrong transaction' discovered on your credit card.
They tell you to respond by filling out an attached refund form, which --surprise, surprise -- leads you right into a malware trap.
One of the oldest tricks in the book of internet crimes is the 'It' gift scam.
Scammers watch the market and find out which popular gifts have sold out in stores. Then they'll start advertising the items at jacked up prices on a rogue website or social network, even if they don't have them.
Once they've got your credit card number, they're free to milk your account dry before you even know what hit you.