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Staying safe for the holidays

Remember, as you get ready for the holidays, so do the cyber-criminals. And their holiday cheer could come at your expense. Cyber-criminals adapt their regular scams and malware to closely mirror our online behavior, and at this time of year that means more fake games and quizzes on social networks and more must-have "deals" on phony shopping sites.

We've put together a list of some of the more common threats that are surfacing this holiday season. Make sure no-one in your family falls for these scams, and the only thing that gets burnt is the green bean casserole!

Gone Phishing

Phishing messages use deceptive information or fake websites in order to get consumers to disclose personal or financial information. These ploys can come in many forms:

Viral videos: Keep an eye out for videos on social networks that get reposted or retweeted, often with the same message attached. If you are prompted to “download an update for your media player” to view the video, two things will probably happen:  1) you’ll be infected with malware, and 2) the fake video will be broadcast to all your friends, encouraging them to fall into the same trap.

Direct Twitter messages: Messages such as “How to lose that holiday weight fast” or “I found this picture of you from the holiday party” accompanied by a shortened link shouldn’t be opened unless you can confirm your friend intended to send you the message.

Cloned retailer websites: If you see a link for a company’s website, make sure to check the URL before you enter any information. It’s easy to create fake websites and social media pages…so make sure to look for any misspellings; for example it’s the difference between BestBuy.com and BetsBuy.com.

Too good to be true

Scams don’t take a holiday. Cyber-criminals know consumers will do just about anything to save a buck during the holidays and they are taking full advantage.

Holiday quizzes: These quizzes usually ask for personal information using tactics such as: “before you can receive your prize you must enter your credit card information for shipping costs.”

Free/Discounted items: A recent Facebook scam featured a Starbucks gift card telling Facebook users that if they re-posted the fake message they would receive a $50 gift card. Similar scams have appeared promising cheap or even free iPads.

Social minefields

By trusting a seemingly safe post, game, or even group on Facebook, you could accidentally enter into a world of spam or worse.

Fake clickjack charity programs: Celebrities aren’t looking to donate to a charity based on how many “likes” something gets. Clicking on that message will only hijack your account, and in trying to help a good cause you could end up spamming your friends.

Broadcasting when your house will be empty: We know you want all your friends to be jealous of your holiday trip to the Virgin Islands, but posting your extended whereabouts on Facebook could be used by burglars to plan an unwanted visit to your house.

Holiday Apps and Games: Exercise caution when the “permissions request” box appears and take a good look at what information the application plans to access. Take a pass on apps and games that try to access unnecessary information.

So what’s a family to do??

Here are some simple tips for staying safe this holiday season:

Type in the URL: Instead of clicking a link to your bank or a store, do it the old fashioned way and type in the URL in the address bar. This prevents you from visiting a potentially fake and malicious website.

Search safely: Activate Safe Search or similar safeguards on your browser, so you don't stumble on a malicious web sites.

Stay updated: Make sure to install updates on your computer and software when prompted, it’s especially important to remain protected during the holidays.

And the best advice? Use your common sense: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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