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Holidays bring on latest trend in online scams
MADISON, Wis. (11/28/11)--While the holiday season is the time of the year for shopping and sharing, it's also the time for online fraud and scams. Shopping and phishing scams, viruses and malware can turn good cheer into frustration with the click of a mouse. Credit unions can help their members avoid becoming victims this holiday season. Education, as always, is the key to prevention.

E-mail scams may include these solicitations:

  • Requests for upfront shipping fees before receiving an unsolicited package;
  • Requests for "charitable contributions" from illegitimate sources;
  • Fake anti-virus software offers ("scareware");
  • Fake social media "contests" and "promotions" for gift cards or free iPads;
  • Holiday "job offers" and travel scams offering free cruises; and
  • Holiday e-cards from unnamed "friends" and relatives.
Many financial-related phishing e-mails are designed to appear oriented as "verification of account information" emails that look like official communications from financial institutions, according to the Texas Credit Union League (Lone Star Leaguer Nov. 22). In the emails, receivers are solicited to "click a link" where they will be prompted to verify their account information, such as name and account number. While most consumers will ignore these e-mails, it only takes one click to make it worthwhile to the fraudster.

As communication evolves, social media platforms are increasingly becoming a target of fraudsters. A recent scam occurred at Southwest Airlines when cybercriminals disguised the scheme as a Facebook post that read, "I love Southwest." Visitors were asked to "repost" the ad on their news feed for "free tickets." But when they clicked, they were asked to take surveys, provide personal information and sign up for free "product" trials. There were no free tickets.

In instances of malware and/or viruses intrusions, some computer owners never know their computers are infected because some virus/malware can avoid virus software detection. Malware is becoming increasingly sophisticated because fraudsters are always working to stay one step ahead of authorities.

Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation dismantled an organized cyber network of eastern European criminals who used malware to target banner display advertising. The malware, which infected millions computers worldwide, redirected users to websites that generated at least $14 million in fraudulent advertising fees. The malware was undetectable by virus software such as MacAfee. It would swap legitimate banner ads, such as those that appear on Amazon or Google, with phony ads that directed users to bogus websites soliciting personal information.

Credit unions can advise members to take preventative measure to protect themselves. Takes these steps:

  • Educate employees so they can warn members;
  • Provide advice in newsletters and on websites;
  • Warn members not to follow unsolicited Web links in e-mail messages or on social media platforms;
  • Caution against opening email attachments;
  • Advise members to maintain up-to-date antivirus software; and
  • Explain that they should verify charity authenticity through a trusted contact number.
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