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Staying Safe Online Through the Holidays

written by: Charles M Bowen•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 12/22/2011

While the holidays are generally a time for giving and sharing, and considered a time to let goodwill towards loved ones shine, the people devoted to using the Internet as a license to steal are not taking a holiday.

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    Online fraud is a problem that touches us all. With the right information, a scammer can drain your accounts, steal your identity or just cause a bit of havoc. Since these people won't be taking a break this holiday season, you should take a little time to educate yourself on the most common tricks and scams that plague the Internet. Below, we've gathered some of the best articles that we have on the topic of online scams and personal security.

    Don't count on holiday cheer to keep you safe!

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    Recent Online Fraud Trends

    He Lives Online Now... 

    Think of any online activity such as shopping, sending online greeting cards, even the checking of bank balances, and it is all done much more often during the holidays. As online scammers are some of the best-informed people out there when it comes to online trends, it should come as no surprise that a large amount of online fraud is customized to take advantage of the holiday season.

    Common Online Scams

    One scam that just won't go away are the fake online stores. With the majority of people busier than ever, the ability to buy the perfect gift with just a few clicks from the comfort of your favorite couch is a strong one. Scammers exploit the popularity of comparison shopping to reel in fresh marks.

    Is This Business Real?

    The irony behind fake companies is that the victim believes they will be saving a few bucks while in reality they have just trading some of their hard-earned money for a great big chunk of nothing. Many legit companies will offer prize giveaways during the holidays. Yet for every real contest there are probably 5 bogus ones.

    Popular Fraud Alert Forums

    If a contest for a hot item requires a suspiciously detailed set of information to enter, then flee as if from the plague! Thousands of these sites go up over the holidays, and they continually get away with it because too many online shoppers get so carried away with the thrill of a "good deal." There are many web forums where past victims relate their tales of woe.

    PC Defense Tips

    No matter how many times a person hears that they should never install a program sent from a dubious source, they just keep pressing the install button which unleashes the proverbial cyclone of consequences. You can never be too careful when it comes to file attachments, especially with "cute" holiday theme downloads hitting the market.

    Common Holiday Cons

    One online activity that has exploded in recent years is the sending of digital greeting cards. With the Christmas holiday the busiest time of the year for this activity, cybercriminals naturally put a devious twist on even this seemingly innocent activity. Most animated cards contain live code in which it is easy to hide all sorts of malicious programs, especially if the e-card comes as a .exe file in an email attachment.

    How to Prevent Other Users from Installing Harmful Software

    Some types of malware discovered in e-cards include spyware that reports all of your online activity, adware that will bombard you with pop-up ads, and even viruses who will send copies of themselves to your entire contact list. If you don't want the kids or your guests showing you the latest "great" thing, then taking a few preventative steps will help.

    How to Protect Yourself From Phishermen

    With email, it's generally easy to spot these as the email will come from an address like "" Anyone can open this type of email, so if you see one, toss it immediately. Text messages can be trickier to spot, but since the few banks that do communicate by text message require the client to sign up for it, if you have never asked for such a service, chances are that someone is trying to play you.

    How to Avoid Online Credit Card Fraud

    Knowing which transactions do and do not require credit card information can help you spot scams a mile away sometimes. A ''free trial'' that requires credit card information is usually suspect.

    How to Spot Fake Companies Online

    Check the sites ownership if you're feeling a little nervous. If they are anonymous through a service like whois, check the contact section of their website. If its provides a single email (or just a contact form without an address), then flight is your best option.

    Basic Social Networking Security Tips

    Thanks to social networking, some people post all of their movements online. Not only is this annoying to everyone on your list (is it really essential for all 10,000 people on your list to know your going toilet shopping?), but it provides great intel to a special class of criminal: the holiday burglar.

    How to Avoid Malware on Social Networks

    So you've fallen in love with those adorable Christmas elves on the hot new social network game, eh? While most games on social network are java or flash-based and thus harmless, if the game's admin team start emailing loads of emails with attachments (screensavers, etc), they could be trying to install harmful software on your computer

    Common Social Network Scams

    Simply posting ''We're at the airport for our two-week holiday!'' broadcasts to everyone in town that your home is, in all probability, empty and ripe for the taking. Burglars with advance notice that a homeowner will be gone for an extended period of time usually don't stop at the jewelery and the TV. It only takes a few hours for a professional to strip all of the wiring from the house, and heck, while they're at it, why not fill a U-haul with your appliances?

    Our advice is that you don't post anything online that you wouldn't say out loud in a poorly lit bar filled with scruffy criminal types. In fact, treat the Internet in general as a poorly lit bar. Be careful with who you're dealing with and watch out for the scammers lurking in the corners.

    There is no need to live your holidays in trembling fear, just live with the prudent understanding that man doesn't stop devouring his fellow-man over the holidays.