Holiday scams adapt to new technology
Nov 13, 2012 (The Columbus Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Holiday-shopping deals that are too good to be true. Black Friday specials that are just way too special. Online greeting cards that contain an unpleasant surprise.
These are among the tricks already making their way to consumers' email boxes and smartphone screens this holiday season.
McAfee's annual "Top 12 Scams of Christmas," released yesterday, mostly contains familiar schemes.
"The majority, 10 of 12, are old scams with a new spin," said Robert Siciliano, Internet-security expert for McAfee. "We've seen almost all this stuff in the past, but the criminals are putting a new spin on everything."
Something new involves Skype, the popular Internet service that allows users to communicate by voice, video and instant message.
The scam "is going after you based on your vanity, your ego," Siciliano said. "You get an (instant message) with a link in it that says, 'There's a funny picture of you at this link.' If you hit the link, the next thing you know, you have downloaded a virus that locks down your device and encrypts or removes certain files.
"Then you get a message that says, unless you pay a certain fee, you'll never see these files again."
The crooks know that mobile and online holiday shopping is set to surge again this year, with 70 percent of Americans planning to shop online during the holidays, using a smartphone, tablet or personal computer.
The crooks also might guess that most online shoppers would be willing to trade their sensitive personal information to receive a great deal.
In fact, 88 percent of online shoppers say they would be willing to share that information, according to a new survey by market-research firm Harris Interactive and McAfee.
But the old tricks have new twists to keep people off balance.
"The deal is, people are getting hip to scams," said Internet-safety expert C. Matthew Curtin, founder of Interhack Corp. "People know scams are cheap and easy to run online. So, to make the scams more likely to succeed, the bad guys are trying to make them more enticing by being relevant or topical."
The key to avoiding being taken is to remain wary.
"There are common-sense defenses," said Joan Coughlin, vice president of the Better Business Bureau serving central Ohio. "But people get busy over the holidays and don't think about those common-sense things."
This year, the criminals have extended their reach to smartphones.
"Mobile devices are a treasure-trove of information for fraudsters," Coughlin said. "The ' always-on' functionality provides fraudsters with new avenues for getting information."
The BBB recently warned owners of smartphones with Android operating systems that two new malware bugs are causing havoc.
The first, Loozfon, is similar to phishing emails that lure users with offers of prizes or fast cash. By opening the email, the link pushes the malware onto the device and enables it to steal a user's address book.
The second, FinFisher, uses text messages or links to load malware onto a phone. Once installed, FinFisher is able to control and monitor the mobile device regardless of its location.
FinFisher's ability to monitor a device anywhere, at any time, is scary, Coughlin said. "And all you have to do is open the email."
Her parting words of advice:
"Don't open email from unknown senders."
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