McAfee: Web users should watch out for holiday scams

Many of the scams listed in the cybersecurity vendor's '12 scams of Christmas' list are new twists on old scams

Web users and people shopping online during the upcoming holiday season should watch out for a new crop of scams, some of them targeting users of mobile devices, cybersecurity vendor McAfee warned.

Many of the scams in McAfee's 2012 edition of its 12 scams of Christmas list, released Monday, aren't entirely new, but are new versions of old scams, said Robert Siciliano, McAfee's online security expert.

Criminals are rolling out old scams, with slight variations, on new devices and operating systems, he said. "There's no sense in reinventing the wheel."

One of the big threats this year comes from malicious mobile apps, particularly through Android app stores other than Google Play, Siciliano said. Mobile apps in those third-party stores may not be vetted for security, he said.

About one in four mobile device users will use their smartphones to shop online this year, McAfee predicted.

Another twist on an old instant messaging scam is a Skype message scare, McAfee said. Through Skype, scammers are sending instant messages saying, "Lol is this your new profile pic?"

When the Skype user clicks on the included link, a Trojan downloads onto the hard drive and sends the link to all of the Skype user's contacts. In some cases, the scammers ask for money from PC users in exchange for regaining access to their compromised files, McAfee said.

The Skype attack is "a couple of different old scams with a relatively new twist to them," Siciliano said. "That seems to be the ongoing theme. There's just so much opportunity out there for criminals, with all the various devices that consumers are using."

Many families own several devices with varied operating systems, many of which aren't properly patched or secured with antivirus and other security software, he said. "You have kids using mobiles, and parents using PCs, and Dad or Mom isn't properly securing them," Siciliano said. "Criminals are taking all old scams and making them new again with different twists."

Other scams making the McAfee list include fake ads for discounted products on Facebook and Twitter, e-cards with links to malware, and advertising links to hot gifts like electronics with super low prices. If the price appears too good to be true, it's probably a scam.

In addition, Scambook, an online complaint resolution platform, has issued a warning about a text-message campaign telling recipients they have won a US$1,000 Best Buy gift card. Scambook estimated that more than 84,000 people have received the text message so far, with another 100,000 mobile users expected to receive the pitch in the next few days.

Internet users should use up-to-date antivirus, antiphishing and antispyware software and firewalls, and keep their operating systems up to date, Siciliano recommended. It's not enough for Web users to be aware of current scams, because criminals are constantly changing tactics, he said.

Parents should talk to their children about security risks, he added. "It's not enough to let the 14-year-old run the family security," he said. "The mom and dad need to know what's going on as well."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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