Secret Santa with Smarts: Fighting Holiday Scams

The holidays are a time of year to open your heart. Just make sure that extending your good graces doesn't play right into a hard-hearted hacker's yuletide plot. Seasonal scams are embedding themselves more each year in our digital world. At a time when many are happy to give freely in order to do some good, make sure you know where you're putting your payment and personal information to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

While it's a relatively new term, the con behind phishing scams is nothing new. Phishing refers to the set of schemes that come via messages in your inbox that attempt to appear familiar — presenting themselves as from the businesses, or even charities that you work with — to con you out of personal information. With increasing design ability, clever fraudsters are able to replicate and recreate many of the templates that earnest businesses use to email you. In the past, their limited access to professional tools made these emails appear hacked together and not quite right, but as technology improves, don't be taken in by convincing appearance alone. Never put your payment, health or personal information into an email when a business requests it — legitimate emails won't request it, but instead prompt you to call in.

Technology lets old scams present new and much more authentic-seeming faces that can spread much faster. A popular scam spreading via Facebook is presenting itself as a chance to participate in a holiday secret Santa gift exchange simply by putting in $10 with the promise to receive 30 or more gifts in return in a few short weeks' time. If this sounds too good to be true, your instincts do you credit: it's a new twist on the age-old pyramid scheme. Officials warn that these mathematically impossible promises on your small investment are just another form of a chain letter — which is legally considered to be gambling when money is involved.

Don't let the schemes of fraudsters dampen your holiday spirits. Be wise to their schemes and share what you know with others: with a wise word from you, unsuspecting friends can stay one step ahead of ever-more-clever tricksters online.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
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