05:44 AM

12 Ways To Bring Coal To Cyber Criminals During The Holiday Season

By Intel Free Press

Every year, crooks take advantage of the holiday season, using fake websites, emails and other tricks of their unsavory trade to steal your personal information.

Here are some things to look out for and steps you can take to boost your holiday cybersecurity.

1. Donate carefully

Hackers take advantage of seasonal generosity by sending emails that appear to be from legitimate charities. Instead, they are fake websites designed to steal your donation, credit card information and identity. If you choose to donate, go directly to the charitable organization's website and never click on links in an email. In the United States, you can check charities with the Better Business Bureau to ensure they are legitimate.

2. Watch out for holiday travel scams

Phony Web pages advertise enticing travel bargains that are designed to get you to hand over your financial details.

3. Beware of fake holiday job offers

Fake job ads and job postings can be found on the Internet and might even appear to be from your Facebook and Twitter friends. Fake offers for "stay at home" jobs are especially prevalent. Don't be tricked into giving up your personal information.

4. Use caution when posting holiday pictures

Digital photos contain metadata tags (hidden information) about the image, camera, photographer and location. While sometimes convenient, metadata tags can reveal private information. One's image is considered "personal information," so you should have everyone's permission before posting a picture. Also pay attention to sensitive information that might be in the background of the image.

5. Stay on guard when using social media

Cybercriminals are even more active on social media sites during the holidays. They take advantage of sites such as Facebook by sending authentic-looking "New Friend Requests." Check carefully before clicking and make sure that you're not granting access to an impostor.

Clicking on links in these emails can automatically install malware on computers and steal personal information.

Be wary when using Skype, and watch out for instant messages with the line "LOL, is this your new profile pic?" When you click the link, your PC becomes infected and your files could be held for ransom.

6. Do your holiday shopping and banking on secure networks

Only check bank accounts or shop online on secure networks at home or work, wired or wireless. Wi-Fi networks should always be password-protected so hackers cannot gain access to them and spy on online activity. Also, remember to only shop on websites that begin with "https://," instead of "http://."

7. Use caution with holiday e-greetings and song lyrics

E-cards are a popular way to send a quick "thank you" or holiday greeting, but some may contain spyware or viruses that download onto your computer when you click on them. Always be careful what sites you access and what email links you click.

8. Beware of email banking and fake invoices

Cybercriminals may try to trick you into divulging your bank details by sending official-looking texts, emails or invoices from financial institutions. They'll ask you to confirm your account information, including your user name and password, and include a warning that your account will become invalid if you don't comply.

Beware of phony offers that ask for too much personal information or offers to wire funds via Western Union or other money service. Asking for this kind of information is usually a sign that it's a scam.

Don't be fooled -- go directly to your bank website to handle any inquiries or payments.

9. Don't respond to unknown callers

Watch out for callers informing you of an issue with your bank account (or other account). If someone asks you to call back to verify your personal information in order to have the account reinstated, do NOT respond. Instead, call the number on your bank statement or go to the bank's website and inquire directly.

Alternately, you might get a call saying you've been approved for a credit card with a high credit limit and low interest rate. To process your new account, the person on the phone "needs to verify a few things" -- your name, social security number, address, phone number and income. Don't fall for it.

Never give your personal information, such as bank account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, PIN numbers or social security numbers to an unknown caller.

10. Use different passwords

Never use the same passwords for several online accounts. Diversify passwords and use a complex combination of letters, numbers and symbols.

11. Remember to shred

One of the best ways to protect your personal information from identity thieves is to shred important documents with personal or business information.

12. Secure your physical assets

Protect yourself by keeping your physical assets locked up and out of the reach of thieves, both at home and at work. It's always a good practice to take your laptop and valuables with you. If you leave your laptop at your desk for any amount of time, make sure it is securely locked down. Always lock your screen to protect it from prying eyes. We recommend taking your laptop and valuables home with you at night.