Holiday Hackers: Five Cyber Scams to Watch for This Holiday Season

Everyone knows Black Friday as the day people sleep in front of Walmart stores for the right to fight over a $20 digital camera or $100 TV. Then there is the relatively more peaceful Cyber Monday that takes all the excitement of Black Friday and fuels it with orange soda and Cheetos but removes the violence, unless you consider turning on your own in Call of Duty because your partner snatched up that cool hard drive you wanted before you could get it violent.

Both days are great fun for the whole family, but you know what isn't fun? Getting ripped off by cyber scamming Scrooges and hacker Grinches who want to put a virtual lump of coal in your computer stocking...sorry, I lost the metaphor. Anyway, they want to steal your stuff and, unfortunately, you are making it easier on them, man. So let's pull this holiday together and figure out how to best spend your money this year without getting ripped off and I don't mean on a fruit cake. Stop buying those nasty things already!

5. Don't be suckered by e-mail scams.

We all know about the Nigerian prince scams (you do know about that, right?) and things of that variety, but during the holidays, you are bound to get e-mails from places trying to sell you special deals on things. Unless you have subscribed to a list from the store or visited their website recently, don't click the link provided in the e-mail. It could be a phishing scam that directs to a website that only looks like the legit retailer website, but is simply a way of stealing your credit card number. If there is a deal in an e-mail and you are uncertain, just go to your browser and go directly to the retailer website. From there, search for the deal. Believe me, if they are really selling something cheap, they want you to buy it and won't make it hard for you to find.

4. Pay attention to security alerts on your browser.

Ever seen a terrifying red screen (especially if you use Google Chrome) tell you the site you are entering is not secure or maybe got a notification that the security certificate is not recognized? Don't risk it. If that happens, there is a good chance there is something wrong with the website that could put you, your money and your computer at risk. Like in No. 5, go straight to the main website and, if you can't reach it because of security error messages, shop somewhere else.

3. Don't buy on Craigslist.

Buying gifts on Craigslist is akin to buying them from a pawn shop anyway, but the real issue here, particularly during the holidays, is that Craigslist is free for anyone including scammers. The most common scam is buying something and having the person e-mail you to request you send the money before getting the product or something similar. I've even seen scams where they say they'll send YOU money orders they can't cash because they are out of the country and they want you to send them the difference in cash. Don't fall for stuff like this. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

2. Be wary of e-cards.

Now, here's a relatively new one. My mom sends me e-cards, usually through American Greetings or some other reputable service, and they are super sweet. I love getting them. But, if you get a card from someone you don't know or it is coming from company you've never heard of, it could be a carefully disguised virus ready to wreak havoc on your computer. They may also ask you to visit a site and give them certain information like your e-mail address or credit card number to view the card sent to you. Don't do it. Best stick with the big names on this one.

1. Change your passwords.

I can't stress this enough and I've harped on it here before, but it bears mentioning again. In truth, you should be rotating your passwords on a regular basis. I know you think that you are super clever by capitalizing the 'p' in "Password" but you clearly are not. If you need help remembering complex passwords, sign up for a password clearinghouse service like LastPass. Passwords are incredibly important, especially on websites where you store bank and credit card information. Don't skimp on them.

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