Shoppers beware -- criminals use Internet scams to line their pockets during the holidays and shoppers are their prime targets.
The Houston Police Department's Major Offenders Division released a list of the top 10 holiday Internet scams for 2012.
10. "The Charity Tricksters" Watch out for communications from charities asking for contributions (phone, e-mail, text, tweets, standard mail or even people ringing the doorbell). Make sure they are legitimate by asking for identification It is safest to donate to known charities and refuse all the rest.
9. "The Grinch E-Card Greetings" An email has an attachment that looks like an e-greeting card with pretty pictures. Malicious e-cards are sent by the millions and especially at the office. Never open those as they might infect the workstation.
8."The Fake Gift Card Trick" Internet criminals promote a false gift card through social media. What they are really after is personal information, which is then sold to other cyber criminals, who use it for identity theft. A recent example is a popular social media site offered a free $1,000 gift card to a local electronics store to the first 20,000 people who signed up to the store's fan page, which was actually a copy of the original.
7. "The Copied Site" Cyber criminals build complete copies of well-known sites, send e-mails promoting great deals, sell products, take the credit card information, but never deliver the products. These sites live only a few days and the money usually goes abroad. The credit card company will refund the purchase but apart from not receiving the gift(s), the credit card number is now compromised and will be sold and used by other cyber criminals. Always check for the https:// rather than just http://.
6."The Direct Message (DM) Scam" You tweet about a particular holiday gift you are trying to find and then you receive a DM from another user offering to sell one. Stop, look and think. This could very well be a sophisticated scam. If you do not know the person, be very careful before you continue, and never pay up front.
5. "The Extra Holiday Money Fraud" Cyber-fraudsters are always offering work-from-home scams to those looking for extra money during the holidays. Some of these make you fill out a form where confidential information, such as a Social Security number, is given out, which results in identity theft. The worst of them offer work where money from a cyber-heist is unwittingly laundered.
4."Fake Recession Relief" Internet swindlers target people vulnerable due to the recession with pay-in-advance scams and credit offers. Spam e-mails advertise "prequalified, super-low interest" credit cards and loans if a processing fee is paid, which goes right to the cyber-criminal's pocket.
3."The Search Term Trap" Cyber-criminals do research and find out what people want and then build a site that professes to have the item. That site is pushed high onto search engines to have users click on the link. The site contains malware and will infect the PC. Make sure your web browser is fully updated and will warn if the site is unsafe.
2."The Evil Wi-Fi Twin" You bring your laptop to scout for gifts at the mall and then check if it can be purchased cheaper online. Cyber-criminals are also online shopping for your credit card number and put out a Wi-Fi signal similar to the free one you always choose. Choose the wrong one and the hacker can steal your credit card data while you buy online. When you use Wi-Fi in a public place, it is best to not use your credit card.
1. "The Black Friday Racket" Black Friday is the start of great holiday shopping deals. Unless they are too good to be true and you get tricked into buying an iPad for a 90 percent discount. Be extra careful with online buying starting the day after Thanksgiving.