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‘Tis the Season to Avoid Cybercrime

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for retailers—and for online scammers. While you’re busy scouring the internet for the best holiday deals, fraudsters are ready to take advantage of your festive mood. Here are some common holiday scams to watch out for.

1. Online specials

Online scams use various tactics to lure unsuspecting buyers into clicking on links or opening attachments. Scammers build complete copies of well-known sites, send emails promoting great deals, sell products and take credit card information—but they never deliver the goods.

Sites that seem to have incredible discounts should be a red flag. If a "special offer" looks too good to be true, it usually is. For example, never click on links in emails or pop-ups with very deep discount offers for watches, phones or tablets. Visit the website yourself, directly through your browser, to check whether an offer is legitimate.

2. Complimentary vouchers or heavily discounted gift cards

Don't fall for ads from retailers or social media posts that offer phony vouchers or gift cards paired with special promotions or contests. Some posts or emails even appear to be shared by a friend (who may have been hacked). Develop a healthy dose of skepticism and "think before you click" on offers or attachments with any gift cards or vouchers.

3. Bogus shipping company notices

You may see legitimate-looking emails from well-known shipping companies like UPS or FedEx, in your inbox, claiming that your package has a problem, or could not be delivered. Many of these emails are phishing attacks that try to make you click on a link, or open an attachment. Once you do this, your computer can become infected with a virus or even ransomware, which holds all of your files hostage until you fork over a ransom fee.

4. Holiday refund scams

These types of emails often come from retail chains or major e-commerce companies claiming that there's a "wrong transaction" and prompting you to click on the refund link. When you do this, and complete the requested form, your personal information may be sold to cybercriminals who can use it against you.

Tips for Safe Online Shopping

  • Shop from home. Use only your home computer to shop online. Never use a public Wi-Fi connection—it’s insecure.
  • Check for secure connections. To ensure you are using a secure connection, look for a closed padlock symbol located in your browser or at the top of the web page, or make sure the website address reads https:// rather than http://. The “s” indicates the site is secure.
  • Consider a designated credit card. It’s a good idea to use a designated credit card, with a low limit, for your online shopping. If your card is compromised, criminals won’t be able to rack up too many charges.
  • Check your statements. Monitor your bank and credit statements online. If you see any discrepancies, report them to your credit card company immediately.
  • Safeguard your computer. Ensure that your anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-spyware software is up to date, and that you have a firewall in place to protect you from scammers.

Shop Safe, Shop Smart

While online shopping often offers deals that are too good to pass up, it pays to be cautious. Make sure you take precautions to ensure your information and your money stay safe.