Enjoy the Egg Hunt — But Watch Out for Easter Scams!

You may know about bogus greetings cards, vacation breaks, charity collections, and dangerous toys, but watch out for these other Easter scams: Internet Scambusters #330

Easter scams have become part of the ritual of using holidays and special days to try to con victims.

Some of the tricks are specific to this period; others crop up at any notable time of year.

This week, we’ll show you what to look out for and explain a little about a very different type of Easter egg hunt.

Time to get going…

Enjoy the Egg Hunt — But Watch Out for Easter Scams!

Easter bunnies, yes; Easter eggs, yes; but Easter scams? Yes. Sadly, Easter has joined the growing list of special days when con artists put in an extra effort to try to catch us out.

Largely, these scams mirror the ones we wrote about recently when we looked at April Fools’ Day scams, so we won’t discuss them in detail again here.

Enough to say that, in the main, the things to be on the lookout for are emails which have some sort of Easter greeting in the subject line. Scam messages will usually have a link or an attachment, which you already know not to click on, don’t you?

They pretend to link to a sensational or funny news story with an Easter connection. But viruses, trojans and other malware await instead.

Bogus Easter card messages have been particularly common in the past couple of years. You know the sort of thing — “your friend has sent you an Easter card.” Because these are spam emails, they usually don’t name the friend or relative, because the sender doesn’t know.

That’s the first giveaway, but even if the message does seem to come from someone you know, it’s best to play it safe by sending them an email asking them to confirm that they sent the e-card before downloading it. Or not downloading it at all.

Four Other Easter Scams to be on the Lookout for:

  1. Because of its religious connections, this is often a time for charitable fundraising, especially for kids’ charities. This provides another opportune cover for the scammers. Be cautious about how you give to charity. Check out these previous Scambusters articles on charity scams for useful tips.

    If in doubt, find the name of the charity yourself and donate directly to them rather than a collector.

  2. Dangers associated with some of the cheap imported toy Easter eggs, bunnies and other novelties that line the store shelves at this time of year. Despite very clear laws covering these items, unscrupulous manufacturers and importers ignore safety regulations.In particular, during Easter 2008 and in the run-up to 2009, consignments have been identified in which the novelties contain lead paint.Watch out, too, for cheap chocolate items that are past their sell-by date, overpriced eggs that don’t make it clear they are hollow and packaging that makes the item look bigger or better than it really is.
  3. Easter vacation breaks. This is traditionally a time when some families take short-notice vacations. Beware of bogus rentals offered online. Scam advertisers want full payment upfront — usually via a cash money wire, which is untraceable.Simply don’t use this method to pay. And be very wary of — or better yet, don’t –send checks to PO Box numbers. Always check the credentials of any vacation advertiser carefully, asking for verifiable references.
  4. Puppies, kitties and other pets. Because we think about bunnies and chicks at this time of year, it’s also a popular time for buying and selling pets.Easter scams involving pets include bogus ads for animals that don’t exist, sales of stolen pedigree animals, phony registrations of supposed pedigrees, and unlawful sales of protected animals.

Check out these other Scambusters articles for more info on pet scams.

A Different Type of Easter Egg

On a brighter note, let’s remember that not all tricks linked to this time of year are Easter scams. As many readers will know, there’s a special category of computer-based quirks called “Easter eggs.”

In fact, they have nothing to do with either Easter or with eggs but they are thought to have acquired their name either from the tradition of hiding and hunting for eggs on Easter day or the practice by jewelry makers Faberge of concealing gifts in their precious eggs.

In this case, though, the hiding and hunting relates to little mini-programs or messages that are concealed inside well-known pieces of software.

Usually, you have to enter a particular key combination or use specific words to reveal the hidden Easter egg.

If you use the Firefox web browser, you can see one by entering “about:mozilla” (without the quotation marks) in the address field. You simply get a spoof message supposedly from “The Book of Mozilla.”

In Microsoft Windows prior to Windows XP, entering “volcano” as the word for a screensaver returns a list of all known active volcanoes in the world.

Mostly, these items are innocent and just for fun. Sometimes, they are games (there’s one in some versions of the Excel spreadsheet program for instance), or pictures, or even just a list of names crediting a program’s developers.

However, our reason for mentioning it is not just so you can have some fun if that sort of Easter egg hunt interests you, but also to warn you that by their very nature, Easter eggs are something of a mystery.

And where there’s mystery, potential danger might lurk. Easter eggs in otherwise innocent free software you might have downloaded could carry a dangerous payload or just someone else’s idea of a great practical joke that actually causes you distress.

Or you may get an email at this time of year inviting you to check out some new Easter egg location that actually connects you to a malicious site, with the usual serious consequences.

For this reason, many software companies now forbid their developers and programmers from hiding Easter eggs — the security risks of not knowing for sure what’s in a program you’re selling are just too great.

So, a simple piece of advice: Don’t search for or activate Easter eggs in anything but reputable software. But if you are interested, check out lists of some of the most interesting ones on established sites like Eeggs.com.

Hidden messages, by the way, are sometimes also found in books and movies (for instance, Alfred Hitchcock’s appearance in his own films). Some people make a hobby out of trying to spot them. 😉

That’s a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a Happy Easter and a great week!