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The East Palo Alto Police Department is circulating within the community a list of the top 12 common scams of the holiday season. The list comes from McAfee Labs. According to the security company, scams continue to be big business for cybercriminals who have their sights set on capitalizing on open hearts and wallets during the holiday season.

1) iPad Offer Scams

With Apple products topping most shopping lists this holiday season, scammers are busy distributing bogus offers for free iPads. McAfee Labs found that in the spam version of the scam consumers are asked to purchase other products and provide their credit card number to get the free iPad. Of course, victims never receive the iPad or the other items, just the headache of reporting a stolen credit card number. In the social media version of the scam, users take a quiz to win a free iPad and must supply their cell phone number to receive the results. In actuality they are signed up for a cell phone scam that costs $10 a week.

2) "Help! I've Been Robbed" Scam

This travel scam sends phony distress messages to family and friends requesting that money be wired or transferred so that they can get home. McAfee Labs has seen an increase in this scam and predicts its rise during the busy travel season.

3) Fake Gift Cards

Cybercrooks use social media to promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing consumers' information and money, which is then sold to marketers or used for ID theft. One recent Facebook scam offered a "free $1,000 Best Buy gift card" to the first 20,000 people who signed up for a Best Buy fan page, which was a look-a-like. To apply for the gift card they had to provide personal information and take a series of quizzes.

4) Holiday Job Offers

As people seek extra cash for gifts this holiday season, Twitter scams offer dangerous links to high-paying, work-at-home jobs that ask for your personal information, such as your email address, home address and Social Security number to apply for the fake job.

5) "Smishing"

Cybercrooks are now "smishing," or sending phishing SMS texts. These texts appear to come from your bank or an online retailer saying that there is something wrong with an account and you have to call a number to verify your account information. In reality, these efforts are merely a ruse to extract valuable personal information from the targets. Cybercrooks know that people are more vulnerable to this scam during the holiday season when consumers are doing more online shopping and checking bank balances frequently.

6) Suspicious Holiday Rentals

During peak travel times when consumers often look online for affordable holiday rentals, cybercrooks post fake holiday rental sites that ask for down payments on properties by credit card or wire transfer.

7) Recession Scams Continue

Scammers target vulnerable consumers with recession related scams such as pay-in-advance credit schemes. McAfee Labs has seen a significant number of spam emails advertising prequalified, low-interest loans and credit cards if the recipient pays a processing fee, which goes directly into the scammer's pocket.

8) Grinch-like Greetings

E-cards are a convenient and earth-friendly way to send greetings to friends and family, but cybercriminals load fake versions with links to computer viruses and other malware instead of cheer. According to McAfee Labs, computers may start displaying obscene images, pop-up ads, or even start sending cards to contacts that appear to come from you.

9) Low Price Traps

Shoppers should be cautious of products offered at prices far below competitors. Cyber scammers use auction sites and fake websites to offer too-good-to-be-true deals with the goal of stealing your money and information.

10) Charity Scams

The holidays have historically been a prime time for charity scams since it's a traditional time for giving, and McAfee Labs predicts that this year is no exception. Common ploys include phone calls and spam e-mails asking you to donate to veterans' charities, children's causes and relief funds for the latest catastrophe.

11) Dangerous Holiday Downloads

Holiday-themed screensavers, jingles and animations are an easy way for scammers to spread viruses and other computer threats especially when links come from an email or IM that appears to be from a friend.

12) Hotel and Airport Wi-fi

During the holidays many people travel and use free wi-fi in places like hotels and airports. This is a tempting time for thieves to hack into networks hoping to find opportunities for theft.

Follow these five tips to protect your computers and personal information:

* Stick to well-established and trusted sites that include trust marks (icons or seals from third parties verifying that the site is safe), user reviews and customer support. A reputable trust mark provider will have a live link attached to its trust mark icon, which will take visitors to a verification Web site of the trust mark provider.
* Do not respond to offers that arrive in a spam email, text or instant message.
* Preview a link's web address before you click on it to make sure it is going to an established site. Never download or click anything from an unknown source.
* Stay away from vendors that offer prices well below the norm. Don't believe anything that's too good to be true.
* Make sure to use trusted, secure wi-fi networks. Don't check bank accounts or shop online if you're not sure the network is safe.

If you think you may be a victim of cybercrime, visit the McAfee Cybercrime Response Unit to assess your risks and learn what you can do next at www.mcafee.com/

For more holiday reminders, see the East Palo Alto Police Department's Crime Prevention Newsletter, which you can find online by clicking here.

 

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