November and December are crazy busy for most of us. We’re shopping, traveling, and also attending (and hosting) holiday celebrations. This is all good news for scammers. Our distraction makes it the perfect time to take advantage of even the most vigilant of us.
Tech blogger Steve Mierzejewski has been seeing phishing scams related to Amazon and Walmart since October—and some of them targeted Black Friday shoppers. GoDaddy’s Chief Information Security Officer warns that even letters from Santa and speeding tickets could be attempts to sucker you in.
Here’s how to spread holiday cheer instead of holiday malware:
1. Don’t. Click. Links. Phishing emails can look just like the real thing—filled with flashy graphics and deals so good, you want them to be true. But, whatever you do, don’t click the link! Instead, head to the website’s page by typing the URL in the search bar or use a search engine. If a deal is that amazing, it WILL be there.
Tip: Don’t trust the “hover links” that appear when you hover your mouse over the email text, either. Hover links can be faked to look like they’re taking you to the real site, but of course they may not.
2. Never open attachments from people you don’t know. And, even if the sender DOES appear to be someone you know, double-check the email address to make sure it’s legit. Also, trust your gut. If the content of the email doesn’t seem quite right, don’t open the attachment either. Sometimes phishing emails will be oddly short with only a few words (“open this!” or “super funny!”) but if you open the attachment, your computer will get infected with malware.
3. Don’t reply with information. Scammers are getting creative, now promising personalized items (like a letter from Santa) if you provide just a little bit of info. Just say no. Head to websites or companies you’ve worked with before. If you’re a newbie to whatever service you’re shopping for, the Better Business Bureau is a great place to start.
4. Be skeptical. Sure, ‘tis the season to be jolly, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still think critically about what appears in your inbox. Do a little digging about those “too good to be true” offers for free gift cards or trips. Double check with other sources and follow the advice above: don’t give any information until you’re sure it’s the real deal.
Tip: Be wary of bad news too—a popular scam tries to trick you into paying a speeding ticket (photo enforcement) you didn’t really receive. Or then there are the fake anti-virus warnings.
Don’t let your guard down—keep your scam sensors set to HIGH when opening emails or text messages, clicking links, downloading mobile apps, and shopping online. If you do, your chances are good of making it through the holiday season without getting scammed.