As the old song goes, this Christmas, "You'd better watch out." A new breed of criminals have been gearing up to take advantage of the huge surge in online shopping in the run up to 25th December.
With their thousands of little helpers (helping themselves to innocent shoppers' money), the scammers are trying everything under the sun to dupe people this festive season - and they are becoming more and more sophisticated at it.
Web security companies and anti-fraud agencies are reporting escalating activities, including:
Search Engine and Auction 'Bargains'
Fraudsters research the most popular presents, such as Apple iPod touch or the video game, Call Of Duty - Modern Warfare 2 and use the popularity to lure bargain hunters, offering big discounts and building websites that can appear high up the search engines or using auction sites. If you can't verify the ownership, track record, security levels etc., then it is highly likely that such bargains are a rip off.
Whilst there are many legitimate electronic greetings card providers, there is also a good chance that you will get one that contains spyware or viruses. These are capable of stealing valuable information or wrecking your computer. They often state they come from a well known brand such as Hallmark, but unless you are absolutely sure that you have received it from someone you know, delete it.
Jobs & Extra Money
The criminals take advantage of people desperate for extra money at Christmas, offering for example easy, online work in return for big cash payments. They then lure them into paying a set up fee and disappear. Other scams include using people as 'mules' to illegally launder money stolen from online bank accounts under the guise of acting as 'Financial Managers' or Money Transfer Agents' Some will be asked to forward gifts to foreign countries - all for what appear to be generous fees. International law enforcement agencies have highlighted this as one of the biggest growth areas in online crime.
Man In The Middle / Man In The Browser
These sophisticated Trojan viruses are becoming more and more widespread. Capable of stealing money whilst people conduct their online banking business and even covering it up, they are spreading rapidly via rogue websites and emails which download the virus on to computers without the owner being aware. Consumers are advised to check out the latest advice on these malicious viruses and update their security to combat them.
Online shopping is of course a great way to buy goods still. The problems start when people are simply not wary enough. Check on who you are dealing with and on their reputation, update your security and do not click on email links unless you are absolutely positive that they are from a trusted source.