Be on alert for scams during Christmas season

The holiday season is upon us, and for many this means we increase our travel, shopping and charitable donations.

Unfortunately, this also opens a door for scammers to take advantage of our additional online activity. Whether you are making flight reservations or purchasing the top gifts of the season, your e-mail and personal accounts can become vulnerable. Before clicking on a deal that seems too good to be true, stop and think. Below is a list of holiday e-mail scams to be alert for this season:

1. ‘Tis the Season for Giving—E-mails that come in during the holidays may ask you to support a cause with a monetary donation. We are all a little more generous during this time of year. Before clicking on any links or making your donation, do your research. If this is a legitimate charity, visit their Web site directly for detailed information. A credible charity will give you information describing its mission, how donations are distributed and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.

2. Heading Home for the Holidays—If you haven’t purchased a flight home for the holidays, cautiously look at any email stating that an airline ticket has been purchased in your name. Call the airline immediately, and do not open the e-mail. Hackers may attempt to place malicious software in a link of a fake airline ticket.

3. Thank You for the Card—E-cards are a popular and inexpensive way to deliver the season’s greetings to family and friends. E-cards are also an easy way for hackers to install viruses and malware on your computer. Be careful when clicking on a link in an e-card as the hackers will often use logos from recognizable brands in order to appear legitimate. If you are concerned, delete the e-mail immediately.

4. Oh Wow! A Package!—E-mails that look like they are coming from familiar delivery services stating that a package cannot be delivered tend to increase during the holiday season. The e-mail typically asks the receiver to insure their order so it can be delivered properly. If the receiver enters a credit card, the scammer could be off shopping with your money. If you have made an online purchase and receive an e-mail like this, contact the company you made the purchase from to inquire about delivery or track your purchase through the delivery Web site.

5. This Year’s HOT Item—Beware of e-mails from Web site claiming to have the “hot” gift of the season. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. These fake Web sites will tempt you through an appealing email, directing you to their Web site, where upon ordering they gain access to your credit card and billing information. You probably will not get your gift, but instead, a very large bill. When shopping online, buy only from a reputable, known site.

6. A New Credit Card For Holiday Purchases— Of course, we can all use extra money during the holidays, and many credit card companies see the holidays as the perfect time of year to get new customers. Be cautious of e-mails from unfamiliar credit card providers. These cards can have high membership fees and interest rates, may only be used at specific stores or online, and can limit the products you are able to purchase. Do not accept these offers, but instead inquire for a card from a notable credit card company.

7. Local Holiday Events—False local news can be pushed to you via e-mail, highlighting topics of interest like holiday events in your town. Beware when clicking on links as you may begin downloading viruses or malware. If you see a headline you are interested in, visit a trusted local news site rather than clicking on the link.

8. Holiday Spending— We all tend to shop until we drop during the holidays. So, we may not find it odd if we receive an e-mail from the bank to verify account information. Instead, scammers are sending these e-mails asking customers to confirm their banking details and passwords. Unfortunately, the bank Web site is not the actual Web site. If the e-mail seems suspicious, call your bank directly before sending any information.

If you think you have fallen victim to a scam, change the passwords or PINs on all your online accounts and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Contact the bank, online merchant or charity directly to alert them of your concerns. As a best practice, routinely review your bank and credit card statements for any charges that you didn’t initiate. Additionally, be sure your computer’s antivirus software is up-to-date. This extra defense may help keep spam e-mails out of your inbox.