How to avoid falling for Valentine cyber scams

Cyber scammers are out to tug on your heart and purse strings this Valentine’s Day with their usual spam and online fraud arsenal but you can avoid being heartbroken by following these tips from Internet security firm McAfee Inc.

McAfee expects messages with a Valentine’s theme to quadruple globally as we approach Valentine’s Day, according to Brenda Moretto, Canadian consumer manager for McAfee.

“In other words, cybercriminals will be working hard to penetrate your defences because they know you will be spending at least a little bit of time online looking for gift ideas, vacation suggestions, or e-cards,” Moretto said.

Facebook scam sample

From sending out malware-laden emails, setting up phoney Facebook promotions and contests to conducting bogus online coupon scams, cyber crooks have it covered this month, she said.

Check out this list of Valentine’s scams to get an idea of how cybercriminals are exploiting this romantic holiday to steal your credit card details, install viruses on your personal computers and devices, and collect your personal information:

Valentine’s Day-themed spam

One type of bait that cybercriminals use to lure your financial information is through sending out holiday-themed emails that advertise items you may want to purchase. In regards to Valentine’s Day, you’ll often receive spam about deals on roses, chocolates, jewellery, etc. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself surfing a false Web site and purchasing products that you will never receive.

Tip: Never open emails from unfamiliar senders.

Malicious e-cards

Opening an e-card from an email address you don’t recognize is one of the easiest ways to invite malware onto your machine. For example, you may be prompted to download software to view the card, and while you may think you’re being re-directed to a legitimate site, you could actually end up installing a virus that could potentially steal your personal information.

Tip: Never click on a link in an e-card sent by someone you don’t know. Always check the address from which it was sent to ensure it came from a legitimate e-card Web site.

Percentage of spam on the rise as Valentine’s Day nears

Online dating scams

Online dating sites are targeted by criminals looking to take advantage of users seeking love. The scenario usually follows a similar pattern: both parties establish an online relationship, and then the criminal concocts an appeal to the victim to send money, valuables, or personal information. It could be that the criminal wants money to make the trip out to visit the victim, or the criminal needs money to help a sick relative. Whatever the case may be, there is a good chance that once the money is sent, the victim will never hear from this person again.

Tip: Only use a reputable dating Web site and be wary of anyone who asks for personal information.

Unsafe searches and malicious malware

Searching for holiday-themed content, whether they be gifts or e-cards, poses significant security risks if a PC or device is not protected. McAfee has found that within the top 100 results of daily top search terms, nearly 50 per cent lead to malicious sitesi. Whether prompted to download suspicious files or software, or encouraged to make a fake purchase, these sites are definitely up to no good.

Tip: Always use a safe search tool such as McAfee SiteAdvisor software, which tells you right in the search results page if a site is safe to click on. Shop from reputable sites and always remember that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Pharma spam is also on the rise

Rogue applications

Allowing applications to access your Facebook information potentially turn you into a spammer. These apps have a mind of their own and bombard your friends with myriad status updates and surveys to try to collect their personal data.

Tip: Be suspicious of applications and links, and think twice before allowing a third-party vendor to access your information

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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