Twitter, Facebook and others will become a prime holiday scam vehicle for spammers, hackers and burglars: Internet Scambusters #416
The huge growth in popularity of social networking sites makes them a lucrative target for holiday scam artists.
Expect them to pump up the volume of Twitter spam and Facebook trickery, while looking for information on your travel plans so they can burglarize your home.
Meanwhile, consumer and law enforcement agencies also warn of the major "low-tech" scams we might encounter this holiday season.
Social Networks Targeted for Holiday Scam Season
Facebook and Twitter tricks look set to head up the holiday scam avalanche that descends on consumers at this time of year.
The season from Thanksgiving through Christmas is the busiest time for scams, preying on our good nature for bogus charity donations or taking advantage of the shopping pandemonium -- online and offline -- to steal everything from our newly purchased gifts to our identities.
Many of the tricks have been around for years and you can read more about them in some of our earlier issues:
But the growing popularity of the social networks, where people list information about themselves and sign up to "follow" or "friend" each other has created a new wealth of tricks to be on the lookout for.
In particular, watch out for these three types of holiday scam if you use social networks:
Holiday scam spam
Thousands of people have set themselves up as apparently ordinary users of Twitter and the other networks, often posting genuine messages about happenings of the day.
They "follow" you, hoping you'll follow them back, after which they'll bombard you with stacks of messages promoting whatever they're selling.
In a bolder version, spammers simply send direct messages to users they don't even follow, knowing the recipients will probably read them.
This activity isn't illegal, though the social networks frequently throw out spammers once they identify them.
What is illegal, of course, is promotion of products that don't exist -- messages pointing to sites posing as stores that only aim to steal your money or credit card details for ID theft.
We can also expect to see a surge in holiday scam offers for hi-tech gadget giveaways.
The Internet security company Sophos reports that scammers have been using Twitter to promote supposedly free iPhones.
They either offer them directly to "friends," or claim to be ordinary Twitter users who just got theirs and pass on the supposed link to where they got them from.
In both cases, victims go to a site that requests information used either for identity theft or to harvest email addresses and other contact info for further spamming activity.
Action: When someone "follows" or "friends" you, check out their postings before deciding whether to return the favor (too many users just automatically link up with their new "friends").
If they turn out to be spammers, report them to the network. And, of course, don't follow their links.
Holiday scam malware
As we mentioned earlier, crooks just use the holiday season as a cover for a heightened version of their regular crime sprees.
For example, they post messages with a seasonal flavor containing links that eventually lead you to downloading malware -- typically a virus or spyware.
The messages, which also come via email, may be anything from a supposed holiday cooking recipe to a notification someone has posted photos of you.
Action: Always be skeptical about anonymous messages that immediately arouse your curiosity. Don't click on the links, and make sure your security software is up to date so it can detect any attempt to install malware on your PC.
Vacation information giveaway
Despite the obvious risks, people just can't seem to resist telling everyone when they're away from home or going on vacation.
We've warned about this risk before in one of our Snippets issues, Toyota Recall Scam Uses Bogus Helpline Number.
Even so, whole web services operate purely so users can tell people where they are, while social networks users excitedly announce their travel plans, even as would-be burglars comb through the lists to find out who's going to be away and when.
The holiday season is obviously prime time for them.
Interestingly, according to a (London) Daily Mail newspaper report, some insurance companies now say they may consider taking people's vacation announcements on Twitter and Facebook into account when deciding whether to pay out on burglary claims.
Amazingly, says the report, a survey showed that up to one third of social network site users have posted details of their travel plans.
Action: Don't tell anyone online where you are or where you're going. Indeed, as we always warn, be cautious about giving out any information that identifies where you live.
For more information about Facebook and Twitter scams and other social networking crime, check out our earlier report, The 5 Most Common Social Networking Scams.
More holiday scam tricks
It would be bad enough if all we had to worry about were Facebook and Twitter scams, but the crooks have lined up plenty of other holiday scams this season. In particular, consumer and law enforcement agencies warn this year of:
- Bogus charity collections, especially telephone solicitations. With Christmas in mind, crooks use names of children's charities like Make a Wish and Toys for Tots to seek donations.
Don't respond directly to phone or doorstep solicitations. Contact the charities directly and donate that way.
- Santa scam letters and gifts. Although he's busy at the North Pole, Santa, it seems, has time to write letters and send out early gifts -- for a fee, often as high as $50.Sometimes it's not the real Santa though and you end up losing your money and, even worse, credit card details.If you're thinking of using this type of service, check out Santa's helpers' credentials online. Whatever you do, don't wire payment -- that'll be the last you'll hear of it.
- Doorstep package theft. More people buying online equals more doorstep deliveries by companies like USPS, UPS and FedEx. You can be sure thieves know this too.Require a signature for delivery of valuable items and/or ask a neighbor to watch for and take in anything left at your door while you're out.
- Tickets for festive events. The holiday season is a peak time for entertainment, so it's also prime time for ticket scams -- notably classified and auction ads for hard-to-get tickets for popular shows and sporting events.If you can't get your tickets through bona fide agencies, think carefully about how badly you really need them. Carefully check out the identity of any seller, establish the ticket/seat numbers and check them with the event organizers. Again, don't wire money.If you plan to book a special package for events that includes travel and accommodation -- make sure it also includes the ticket!
We wish all our subscribers a happy and peaceful holiday season. Watch out for that holiday scam so you can truly enjoy the company of family, the celebrations, and the joy of giving as well as receiving.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!