lockThe holidays are an exciting time for most people and as we go gift shopping for family and friends, it is important to remember that cybercriminals and scammers are excited by the dangerous opportunities the holidays create. Fraud is more common than you might think; According to Fox Business, one in ten adult Americans were victims of fraud in 2011. Scammers are constantly creating new techniques to steal personal and financial information from their victims, but you can protect yourself against fraud by following these tips:

“Too Good Be True” Usually Is

Be wary of websites or emails offering the holiday season’s hottest toy or product at a discounted price. Often times, the offer is a link to malicious software designed to take advantage of online holiday shoppers desire to score the perfect gift. Some emails and websites even claim to offer popular or high price-tag gift items for free. If it seems too good to be true, trust your instincts.

Be Suspicious of “Emergencies”

You receive a call or email from someone claiming to be a representative of your bank, telling you there is an “emergency” issue with your credit card or bank account. The email or call directs you to a number or website where you are asked to enter personal information to confirm your identity. Once you enter your information, the scammers have everything they need to access your bank account and bleed it dry, either all at once or over time.

Sending out fraudulent emails of this type are often referred to as “phishing,” and the phone counterpart is often referred to as “vishing” or “voice phishing.” The FBI reports that account holders at one unnamed bank called the phone number they were told to, gave out their personal information, and had their bank accounts drained within 10 minutes of their calls. The best defense is to never give out personal information over the phone or internet because you feel pressured to do so. Call your banks customer service number posted on their official website or mailing documents, and not the number you are given in the email.

Only Use Secure Transactions

When shopping online, only use secure websites; you can recognize them by the “padlock” symbol next to the address tab in your browser. Additionally, shop on sites that have “https:” instead of “http:” before the site address, which indicates that this is a secure site. By only shopping at sites with valid security certificates, you can dramatically decrease the odds that you will be targeted for cybertheft.

Give To Charity Wisely

One of the lowliest of tactics scammers employ during the holidays is designed to take advantage of people giving spirit: operating bogus charities. Commonly operating as telemarketers, scam charities will claim to represent a group such as a Disaster Relief Fund and call asking for donations. Most of the time, the group they claim to work for doesn’t even exist, though they also often claim to be from larger organizations like the Red Cross.

Don’t succumb to high-pressure charity pitches, no matter how hard a collector pushes. Giving on the spot right away is never a requirement of a real charity, and any authentic organization is happy to take tomorrow what you can’t or wont’ give today. Do your research before you give to make sure you are giving wisely.

Avoid Text “Gift Card” Offers

Gift card scams are prolific during the holidays. The target receives a text message informing them that they have won a gift card to a major retailer, such as Target or Best Buy. The message includes a PIN and link to a website where the victim is instructed to enter the PIN and their personal information to claim a hefty gift card. Typically, the personal information asked for is enough to steal your identity. Identity theft is on the rise, and the 2013 Fraud Report by Javelin Insights found that 2012 identity fraud incidents rose by more than one million victims and scammers were responsible for 21 billion dollars in damage.

To protect yourself from this scam, ignore any text offer that seems too good to be true – in fact, it’s safe to ignore any retail offer you receive via text. Some texts will say you can text “STOP” in response to cease receiving “offers,” but don’t be tempted. This is often a trick used by the scam artists to confirm that the number is an active one. Instead, forward the text to the number 7726, a common “SPAM” service number for many cellphone carriers to block future texts.

Contributor: Albert Miller