Just in Time for Christmas: Scammers

Get it in writing.
That’s the message coming from the Government of BC as we enter into another holiday season. 
Christmas is a time of giving, and scammers have taken to preying on the charity of others by pretending to be collecting for charitable causes during the Christmas season. 
While there are many legitimate charities who call around Christmas, there are also plenty of scams on the go. Anti-virus maker McAfee has released its annual “Twelve Scams of Christmas” report, warning consumers about the 12 most active scams this Christmas. 
With 55 percent of Canadians saying they plan on buying at least a few things online this Christmas, the time is ripe for scammers to start exploiting consumers.  
At the top of the McAfee list is social media scams, where hackers send out fake messages from friend’s accounts, or advertise holiday deal apps that give your private data away. Shortened links can easily lead to malicious websites or “contests” that turn out to be data harvesting schemes. 
Next, is a warning about malicious mobile apps. Consumers have downloaded over 25 billion apps for Android devices alone. Not every app is what it seems, so check reviews and the app’s permission policies, before downloading. 
Travel scams are a perennial favourite, where too-good-to-be-true airfare turns out to be exactly that, and while you’re trying to figure out why your ticket isn’t valid to get on that flight, the scammer is on his way to Bermuda with your credit information. 
Holiday-related spam and fishing attempts continue to be popular. While most of these are poorly executed, phishers are getting much wilier, and it’s easy to fall prey to a pretty email. Never click on an included link, as these often lead to malicious websites. 
The iPhone 5 or the new iPad mini are hot hot hot, and it’s easy to be lured in with the promise of discounts off your new tablet. Even if the email tells you it is from Future Shop, don’t click that link. If you must, go to the Future Shop (or other retailer) website directly from your browser; ie, do a Google search or type the site address directly into the bar. 
The Skype Message scare is a relatively new scam for this holiday season. Here’s how it works: the victim receives a Skype message, often from a friend’s address saying something like “LOL, is this your new profile pic?” When the victim clicks the link, a Trojan downloads onto your hard-drive, and your computer sends out the same link. Sometimes, the virus writer will try to extort money from you to regain access to your files. 
Beware bogus gift cards. Gift cards are popular and easy and dangerous. Don’t buy gift cards from online third parties. 
Gone SMIShing. SMiShing is phishing via text messaging. In this case, a scammer tries to lure you into giving out information or performing something you wouldn’t normally do. A common scam is pretending to be your bank asking you to verify information or log-in to your account. Don’t click that link!
While scammers have been known to set up real storefronts to scam people out of their holiday dollars, it’s much easier to do it virtually. A well designed site can lull people into a false sense of security. While deals are easy to fall for, you should only buy from legitimate, known and verified online sources. (And make sure about that address. www.futureship.ca might look like the real deal, but it’s not. 
One of the most painful things around Christmas is to donate to a charity to, say, provide gifts for children, only to find out that the charity was fake. The best way to prevent falling victim of this scam is to ask for information to be sent to you in writing before you commit to a donation. A second option is to call the charity directly, using the number provided on their website. And if you don’t recognize the charity? Check it out. The Canadian Revenue Agency maintains a list of registered charities in Canada, and sites like www.charitynavigator.com can give you the lowdown on the best and worst charities around. Signs of a scam include high pressure tactics or threatening telemarketers who want you to make a donation immediately. If you believe you have been scammed, you can file a complaint with your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or at their website: www.phonebusters.com/english/common_contactus.html
E-cards have been popular for years, and they still are one of the best ways for scammers to send viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. Always be careful before clicking that link, or  send real cards. 
Finally, beware phony ads on sites like Craigslist or Kijiji. Be especially wary if the person asks for credit card info or too much personal information. 
While there is no best time of year to become the victim of a scam, getting taken advantage of around Christmas is a particularly bad time. Remember, the vast majority of sites, charities and links are good and helpful and above board, so be cautious, but don’t be afraid to shop online or to donate to charities, but also don’t be afraid to take the time to check something out.
Scam of the Week 
Scareware” Scam warning – RCMP or CSIS pop-up  
The Canadian Anti Fraud Centre has been receiving reports from Canadians who say their computers are being frozen or they have been “locked out” of their computers after receiving pop-up messages warning them their computer has been associated with child pornography. These warning messages, which claim to be from the RCMP or CSIS, tells the recipient to pay $100 dollars via Ukash so their computer can be “unlocked”