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12 Christmas Cyber Scams to look out for this year

Published 19th December 2016

Throughout the festive season keen Christmas shoppers will spend millions online. Forecasters Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) and Experian predict that £636m will be spent online by consumers on Christmas Day alone, either by using their smartphone, PC, tablet or laptop.

Whether you’re browsing the website of your favourite retailer on a company network, a public Wi-Fi connection or the comfort of your own home, the threat of cyber scams is, sadly, all around.

For those vulnerable and unsuspecting Christmas shoppers, this time of year is when cyber criminals are most likely to prey. Throughout the 2014 festive season, both individuals and businesses reported losses of £16.5m (Action Fraud) due to cybercrime, with countless more cases going unreported.

Don’t let a cyber-crime-Scrooge get in the way of your festive celebrations, and keep an eye out for the 12 Christmas cyber scams:

1. Email Banking Scams – The festive season is undoubtedly an expensive time of year, and receiving an email from your bank at Christmas can be extremely disconcerting. Cyber criminals prey on this, and posing as a financial institution is one of the most common routes that scammers take. Typically these emails will ask you to verify personal information. Always remember that your bank will never contact you asking for personal information, so always call your bank if you’re concerned.

2. Phishing Scams – Falling for a phishing scam is an easy mistake to make. Over this period companies send millions of emails in a last-ditch attempt to plug their products before Christmas, and phishing scammers will send seemingly genuine emails that lead to infect your device when clicked. Only open emails from reputable source, never click on a link that doesn’t seem legitimate and if an email describes an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Public Wi-Fi Scams – Doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and stopped for a coffee to check your emails? If you’re connecting your device to a public Wi-Fi network, it’s important to always be vigilant. Make sure your files and data can’t be shared with anyone else on the network and try to stick to websites that support the HTTPS protocol.

4. Fake Free Wi-Fi – Similarly, if you’re attempting to log on to a network which requires you to enter any credentials or credit card details, don’t do it. Many Wi-Fi networks in public places may seem free, but the result could be costly if you give away personal information to lurking cyber criminals. Consider using mobile data (3G/4G) if you’re worried about entering payment details.

5. Fake Updates – Christmas is a time for sharing, and countless social media users love to share articles, images and videos with their friends and followers. However, cyber criminals will often infect this shareable content with malware, that prompts you to update to the latest version of flash player, for example, to watch the hilarious video your friend has sent you. Instead of an update, you’ll receive a malware infection that then sends the same message to your social media contacts asking them to do the same, thus spreading a malware virus rather than Christmas cheer.

6. Ransomware Viruses – Throughout 2016, ransomware has been on the rise. Like phishing scams, ransomware begins life as a virus that infects your device through emails or downloads. However, unlike phishing scams, ransomware will literally hold your device and data to ransom. The ransomware will encrypt files and documents stored on your device, demanding payment for their release. As with phishing scams, always think twice before clicking on or downloading content from a source you don’t know, or didn’t request.

7. Unsecure Websites – A number of websites that you input personal data or credit card details into do not offer a secure connection. This may not be intentional, but it is always best to avoid inputting any valuable personal data into a website that isn’t secure. Keep an eye out for the padlock symbol or change of colour in your address bar. If you can’t spot either of these things, it’s probably best to do your Christmas shopping elsewhere.

8. News Scams – Sadly, cyber criminals will often use major world news to scam unsuspecting, charitable people out of money during the season of goodwill. Criminals create scam emails and fake websites asking for donations, which unfortunately will never reach the worthy cause. While such emails and websites may appear genuine, always double check that any donations you make go to registered charities or aid agencies.

9. Fake Virus Checkers – Installing a robust anti-virus system is simply good practice. By making sure your device is well prepared to defend cyber-attacks, you can avoid succumbing to pop-up messages telling you to ‘click here for a free virus check’.

10. Phone Scams – Not content with attacking you just through the internet, cyber criminals can go one step further and contact you over the phone. If you receive a call claiming to be a support or customer adviser from your bank, or the manufacturer of that shiny new laptop or smartphone you got for Christmas, always ask for their credentials. Never give out any personal details or passwords to someone who makes an unsolicited call to you. If in doubt, hang up and then contact the company’s registered helpline.

11. Internet Surfing Scams – Cyber criminals can affix malware to pretty much anything. This could be websites, adverts, images, videos and links. If you’re internet surfing and come across something which doesn’t look quite right, or seems too goo to be true, avoid it. The golden rule is, if in doubt, don’t click.

12. Cracked Downloads – Laptops and other devices are expensive and popular Christmas gifts and the temptation to save costs by installing cracked pirated software is extremely enticing. However, not only is cracked software illegal, but it typically comes with the added gift of malware. Although software can be expensive, it’s important to only ever purchase and download these products from reputable websites or stores.

Cyber criminals know all too well that Christmas is the busiest time of year for internet retailers and that more people than ever will be using their devices to make purchases and surf the web. As cyber security becomes a growing issue, not only in the UK but all over the world, it’s critical that internet users stay safe by ensuring that their device is protected by good security hygiene and trusted security products. And, always remember to think before you click.