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The 12 scams of Christmas 2010

Here are scammers' top online plans to steal your money or your identity this holiday season.

By Karen Datko Nov 23, 2010 9:51AM

This post comes from James Limbach at partner site


The Christmas shopping season is traditionally a boon to retailers and scammers alike.


McAfee, an Internet security firm, has revealed its "12 Scams of Christmas" -- the 12 most dangerous online scams that computer users should be cautious of this holiday season.



"Scams continue to be big business for cybercriminals who have their sights set on capitalizing on open hearts and wallets this holiday season," said Dave Marcus, the director of security research for McAfee Labs. "As people jump online to look for deals on gifts and travel, it's important to recognize common scams to safeguard against theft."


Here, then, are McAfee's 12 scams of Christmas:


IPad offer scams. With Apple products topping many shopping lists this holiday season, scammers are busy distributing bogus offers for free iPads. 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. Post continues after video.

"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 the "victim" can get home. McAfee Labs says there's been an increase in this scam and predicts its rise during the busy travel season.


Fake gift cards. Cybercrooks use social media to promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing consumers' money and information, 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-alike. To apply for the gift card they had to provide personal information and take a series of quizzes.


Holiday job offers. As people have sought extra cash for gifts this holiday season, Twitter scams offered dangerous links to high-paying, work-at-home jobs that ask for your personal information, such as your e-mail address, home address and Social Security number, to apply for the fake job.


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 they're doing more online shopping and checking bank balances frequently.


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.

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

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.


Low price traps. Shoppers should be cautious of products offered at prices far below those of 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.


Charity scams. The holidays have historically been a prime time for charity scams since it's a traditional time for giving. 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.


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 e-mail or IM that appears to be from a friend.


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.


McAfee advises Internet users to follow these five tips to protect their 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 website of the trust mark provider.
  • Do not respond to offers that arrive in spam e-mails, texts or instant messages.
  • 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 sounds too good to be true.
  • Make sure to use trusted Wi-Fi networks. Don't check bank accounts or shop online if you're not sure the network is safe.

More from and MSN Money:

Nov 24, 2010 3:32PM
As a computer guy I've found that pretty much anyone can get ripped off. Either via a computer, phone, email or just a plain old face to face scamming.  You don't have to be what some posters refer to as "stupid" to get ripped off.  Look at Bernie Madoff's scam. He ripped off some pretty smart people. All you have to work with is your own "street smarts" to rely on when it comes to protecting yourself from these thieves.  Trust no one when it comes to separating you from your money and/or personal information. 
Nov 24, 2010 2:40PM
It makes me doubt the future of the human race when low-life scammers get away with jerking honest folks around. :(

Beware of ANY furniture ad's touting "Bankruptcy sale" "Huge Manufacturer buyout" or ANY ad's for any product that don't show prices, or "prices so low we can't legally show them", especially electronics and cars. These are mostly phony, overpriced, rip-off's. Especially furniture: Resale (Generally a southern auction/liquidator) company buy's a store that's in trouble, doubles/triples or more, the existing prices, then knocks off "2/3" or "3/4" of the Bloated price, Sale "Cuts" that are in fact higher prices than before. No good deals here!!! Also, beware of the "Exchange only for in store Mdse" because the "X-changed  for other product puts the new product way above full price",  the Bloated price. Be leery of Buy here/Pay here because their products are way over-priced Trash, and the Interest rates generally begin at 25-30% or ABOVE, and the legality of actual ownership can be very cloudy.

Just shop wisely, and avoid any "Pressure" from "College Hotties and Hunks" in Mall walk and public Kiosks, because once you give them a signature or down payment, they will deny ever knowing you, no matter how "Beautiful" they seem.


Shop wisely, compare, and you will have a Merrier Christmas.......

Nov 24, 2010 1:42PM
Hey Folks! Just use your common sense. If it looks and sounds like it is - "to good to be true" it usually is.  BEWARE!!!  Pass it by and look for something else.
Nov 24, 2010 1:29PM
Thinker1500...spay and neuter your animals! You are adding to the pet overpopulation problem
Nov 24, 2010 12:34PM
Brian, when it's one of your children or your elderly grandparent that is "dumb enough to fall for one of these scams," what kind of consequences would you like to see them suffer?  Just curious.
Nov 24, 2010 11:58AM
You mean like the scam links sponsoring this article? Free credit report and 2000% stock gains?  The irony is beautiful. 
Nov 24, 2010 11:17AM
Why do these articles always fail to remind people to disable or password protect their shared folders when on a public WiFi? Seasoned travelers know this, but the occasional traveler who stays on a home network or office network with wide open sharing on may not. Your router and local network may protect you at home or work from any hacking, but when you're public, anything you have that isn't protected is there for anyone else on that network to see and access.   
Nov 24, 2010 2:55PM
forgot to mention hedge fund scammers, the high life scammers..the biggest of them all.
Nov 24, 2010 12:31PM
@ Ignatz and Johnny--

Because it can't happen to you, right?  

Even the most cautious of us can get caught up in these scams.  Don't fool yourself.  Can't tell you how many times I've seen stories that start out with, "But I'm usually so careful..."  Yes, some scams are so antiquated that you wonder where the hole is that some of these victims have been living in that they fell for such a known ploy.  However, scammers continue to find ways to trick even the most skeptical--that's how they survive!  Articles like these are a great way to keep apprised of these scams, and at the least are a reminder to those of us too busy to remember what's out there.  Be safe and enjoy the holidays!
Nov 23, 2010 12:50PM
Nov 29, 2010 10:38AM

i know what these scammers are about and all of them should get very harsh jail sentences a/o deportation back to their countries of origin. let there be absolutely no mercy for these kind of internet terrorists!


these frauds often scam the elderly,disabled, the unknowledgeable for a quick $bank$ and need to be treated much harsher then the average tax evader

when they are caught. i have gotten store card offers

asking for my e-mail address/home address/phone number. shortly after my families power and internet server's/cable tv were shut-off and/or temporarily disconnected. and went on for most of this summer 2010, and only when i was shopping online. i am more careful with what e-mails i look at or answer.

Nov 29, 2010 10:15AM
May I make a suggestion? Web of Trust. Almost all sites that have scams will have a very poor rating, usually so poor that WOT will ask you before letting you into the site. Even when it's not poorly rated, you can check for comments, which will tell if there is malicious content or scams.
Nov 29, 2010 9:00AM
I work at a major hotel/casino on the las Vegas strip.  We get many fraud calls a day.  My best advise is:  If it sounds to good to be true, it is.  Tourists are the easist to prey on.
Nov 29, 2010 5:53AM
The Christmas Season brings out the best and the worse for thje Holiday Season.  We all need to take a lot of caution to keep from getting " taken " in scams and adds for free" this and that ". Remeber an old saying that can help us, " Nothing in life is free ". The number of home and automobile breakins and thefts increase greatly during this season of good cheer so secure you property to discourage the thieves. Merry Christmas...
One of the nastiest scams that is taking place both on-line and through the mail is the foreign lottery scam.  Here is a link with information about this one:

Also, bad check schemes involving work at home or non-existent jobs.  Here is information about spotting bad checks:

Feel free to check these links with McAfee site advisor, Web of Trust, google etc.  I do.

Nov 24, 2010 4:43PM
All I can say is if you ever get anything from your bank that sounds important, go to your bank.  Don't call the number, just go down to your bank and check it out.
Nov 24, 2010 1:11PM

Mr. Trifecta says:

1/Less money to spend on special gifts,  finds a special gift and worries only that it is the right gift and the money is available.....a gamble but could be good....    Other logic blows out the window...,

2/Naivety, pure and simple.. Old or young..  This can be controlled through repeated instructions or just once burned...  Then you are the expert.

3/Self Esteem- Some folks see items of interest and are afraid to call and ask a family member about is or a friend perceiving that the stupid look will appear or the" what are you thinking?"

4/Some are just incurable...


5/ People like Brian are just idiots

Nov 24, 2010 12:32PM
Nov 24, 2010 11:43AM
Do not buy 2 for 1 movie tickets from  They use another person's credit card to purchase them from Fandango at full price. 
They tell you not to show the theater your credit card.  I found this out from the movie theater and from a customer service rep from Fandango when I went to pick of my tickets.  This is a way for them to steal your identify.
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