By Shirley Pulawski

It's important to be on guard all year when it comes to computer fraud, but hacking, phishing, and malware problems are especially rampant around the holidays. Crooks are always ready and waiting to take advantage of the smallest mistakes to exploit and steal information. Learn how to protect yourself from some common tactics so you can avoid holiday scams.

Charitable giving rackets

It's the end of the year, which means every reputable charity organization is doing its job by soliciting end-of-tax-year donation at an accelerated level. This means your email inbox is probably being slammed with these on a daily basis, especially if you have donated in the past. While the majority of the emails may be from legitimate charitable organizations, you can be sure a few scams are among them. Usually, scammers of this nature will claim to be soliciting a donation on behalf of a well-known organization, but when the reader clicks on the link in the email, the user is taken to a pay portal which has nothing to do with the charity. These scammers can elaborately duplicate a web page with names, logos, and other information which will make the site appear legitimate, but check the URL of the link carefully. If there is anything odd about the link address as it appears in your browser, even if the name of the charity is buried somewhere in the URL, don't enter any personal information, and don't click any additional links.

Email phishing

Most people are busier than usual this time of year, and scammers count on it. Watch out for any emails claiming to be from your bank, credit card issuers, mortgage company, or any other trusted financial resource which ask you to click a link to resolve a problem. Banks and other financial institutions generally won't ask for personal information or direct you to an unusual login page if any real problems exist with your account, and usually, you will receive a phone call in which you are directed to log into your account using normal methods or go directly to an affiliated office. If you make the mistake of clicking on any links within the message and enter personal information, be sure to change all of your passwords and contact the bank to change account numbers when possible. Some phishing scams can be very clever, so think first before you react and start clicking links and entering information.

New viruses in old places

Any sites that build in popularity around the holidays are targets for criminals. Many legitimate websites get hacked throughout the year, but they are especially vulnerable during times of high traffic when the hacks may go undetected. Web site pop-up ads offering outstanding discounts on popular items may contain links to malware. Don't click on anything that sounds too good to be true, or better yet, make sure pop-ups are disabled in your browser's settings, and install ad-blocking software. A quick search for "ad blocking software" plus the name of your browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, etc.) should reveal several options. Just check those URLs in the search results and make sure you are downloading from a reputable source.

Bogus search engine results

Scammers frequently set up pages designed to show up in popular searches which contain links to spyware, malware, or viruses. Often, these are designed to show up when searching for software such a s a web browser, and the page will look legitimate. In many cases, you can download the actual software being sought, but not without spyware like toolbar add-ons and other information-collecting malware. During the holidays, scammers develop links related to popular gift items, so again, check those URLs and if something sounds too good to be true, you can bet it is.

Hijacked Wi-fi

It might feel like a nice break to stop in the mall food court and use the Wi-Fi to check email, compare prices, or just catch up with friends. However, Wi-Fi in such public and highly-trafficked places are usually very unsecure, and not all of your fellow diners may be minding their own business. Use the more-secure 3G or 4G on your phone, or let it wait until you get home.

Related Articles
  1. Credit & Loans

    When, Why And How To File A Complaint With The CFPB

    When the employees you interact with at your bank, credit card company, mortgage lender or other financial institution seem incapable of or unwilling to resolve your complaint, the Consumer Financial ...
  2. Personal Finance

    Why Banks Are Scrambling To Hear Your Complaints

    Find out the real reasons why banks are trying to reach angry customers before they file a complaint to the CFPB.
  3. Insurance

    Don't Fall Victim To These Obamacare Scams

    There are numerous fake Obamacare websites that attempt to look like an insurance exchange, when they are really just individuals trying to take your money and obtain your personal information. ...
  4. Credit & Loans

    Debit Card Fraud: Is Your Money At Risk?

    As criminals are becoming more savvy, your money is becoming more vulnerable.
  5. Credit & Loans

    How To Keep Your Debit Card Transactions Safe

    Debit card use has become more popular than ever, but not every consumer knows what they need to do to make sure they keep their debit card safe.
  6. Stock Analysis

    Under Armour's Plan to Double Revenue

    Learn how Under Armour plans on doubling its revenue by 2018. Find out what areas the company plans to count on for this growth and its record streak.
  7. Taxes

    Internet Sales Tax Vs. Brick & Mortar Sales Tax

    Learn about the differences between sales taxes and Internet sales taxes, and the goods and services that typically incur each type of tax.
  8. Entrepreneurship

    How an Internet Sales Tax Will Affect Your Small Business

    Learn about how the Marketplace Fairness Act may impact small business owners should it pass in the House and what the act requires from business owners.
  9. Savings

    Craft Beer Clubs – Bargain or Not?

    If you're an aficionado of artisanal brews (or would like to be), a beer club can be a palate-pleasing, albeit pricey, way to expand your hops horizon.
  10. Stock Analysis

    When Will Dick's Sporting Goods Bounce Back? (DKS)

    Is DKS a bargain here?
  1. Does QVC accept debit cards?

    QVC accepts debit card payments as one of its many payment options. The company, which is the world’s leading video and e-commerce ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does QVC charge sales tax?

    QVC, an American TV network, is registered with states to collect sales or use tax on taxable items. QVC is also required ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can you pay off a Walmart credit card in store?

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) allows multiple payment options for its credit cards, including in-store payments. The ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does Walmart take international credit cards?

    Foreign visitors to Walmart locations in the United States can use their credit cards issued by banks outside of the U.S. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)?

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between JIT (just in time) and CMI (customer managed inventory)?

    Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management focuses solely on the need to replenish inventory only when it is required, reducing ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  2. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  3. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  4. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  5. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
  6. Black Monday

    October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost almost 22% in a single day. That event marked the beginning ...
Trading Center