Cyber scams! The holiday season is traditionally a time for cyber giving, but it's also a time for cyber taking. From DDoS attacks to scam artists looking to make a quick buck, the holiday season is a time to watch out for who’s naughty and who’s nice. And who's very, very naughty.
With nearly half of Americans reporting they have been tricked or defrauded, many are concerned that the Internet is becoming less safe and want tougher federal and state laws to combat online criminals, according to a new Digital Citizens Alliance survey.
In the survey of 1,215 Americans, 46 percent said they had been the victim of an online scam or fraud, had credit card information stolen, or had someone steal their identity. One in three Americans reported suffering financial loss – with 10 percent reporting that the loss had been over $1,000.
Just as troubling, a majority of Americans (52 percent) reported that they felt the Internet was less safe than it was five years ago. Only 12 percent said that the Internet was safer. Against the backdrop of these concerns, an overwhelming number of Americans (71 percent) want tougher federal and state laws.
"We've reached a point where Americans are bracing for what comes next – a stolen credit card, a breach of sensitive information, or criminal scam," said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, a consumer-focused group that raises awareness about the pitfalls and dangers that lurk online. "It's a bad sign when Americans think the Internet is becoming less safe, so it's vital that governmental entities such as the Federal Trade Commission and others make sure that crime does not pay."
Christmas cyber siege
The Digital Citizens Alliance online survey presents a troubling roundup of how Americans are under siege:
- 69 percent said they found malware or other computer viruses on their computers. In recent months, the Digital Citizens Alliance has exposed how criminals are using content theft websites to lure consumers so they can expose them to malware, which can lead to financial loss, identity theft, ransomware and a host of other risks.
- 20 percent said they have purchased something online, but never received it nor got a refund of their money. Younger Americans, in particular, are at risk because they are more apt to shop on less credible websites offering “deals.”
- 42 percent said they had their credit card information stolen and used.
- 20 percent said that either their computer or their company's computer systems has been hacked.
- 71 percent said, "I feel like I have to be on guard," with one in six saying they feel they need to be "constantly on guard that someone is trying to harm me.”
"Americans want their leaders -- whether they work in government or at the tech companies that bring us technology -- to step up and combat this epidemic of online crime and risk," Galvin said. "Americans deserve to feel safe whether they are shopping in a mall or on Amazon. They shouldn't have to worry about someone stealing their credit card information, whether it's at a restaurant or on Etsy."
Holiday cyber scams
As for the cyber crimes that crop up this time of year, ScamAwareness, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about financial fraud, is warning consumers to watch out for the top three scams that typically increase during the holidays:
- Internet purchase scam: This scam is consistently the top fraud complaint reported by U.S. consumers each year. According to the National Retail Federation, this holiday season customers are expected to spend an estimated $117 billion online. These shoppers are prime targets for scam artists offering merchandise, gift cards, and even pets at a steep discount. Many of these offers look too good to be true, and they usually are. Consumers should never wire money for an online purchase. A money transfer is the same as cash and once it is received it cannot be recovered.
- Holiday fake charities: American charities receive one-third of their annual donations during the holiday season. Scammers take advantage of this outpouring of goodwill by creating new charities or misusing the name and brand of a well-known charity to get donations sent directly to them. Before donating, consumers should verify that the charity and its web address are legitimate. When sending the money, use a check or credit card instead of a wire transfer or cash for donations.
- Holiday fake employment: Holiday employment scams have many different twists. Some scammers target people looking to earn extra money by offering a person a job that involves spending money upfront for "training" or a "start-up kit" that the victim never receives. Other fraudsters may send a fake check to a "new hire" and ask them to cash it, keep some of the money as payment, and then wire what's left back to them. The victims in both of these situations end up losing their money and a job they thought they had. Consumers should be aware that no legitimate company will ask them to pay money in order to earn money.
"Consumers should never send money to someone they really don't know. While they are enjoying their holidays, fraudsters are hard at work plotting to take their money," said Juan Agualimpia, executive vice president of ScamAwareness.org. Agualimpia consumers can use his organization as a resource this holiday season to learn how to spot scams.
Tracking holiday cyber fraud
With more than a million cases of fraud being reported to the government annually, the Fraud Watch Network has launched an online Scam-Tracking Map, allowing consumers nationwide to report instances of fraud schemes, by way of sharing the information with others in their community who may become targeted. The free interactive tool also includes alerts from law enforcement and other public agencies, listed state-by-state.
The Fraud Watch Network is encouraging those who have been targeted or victimized by a scam to use the map web page, where they can easily post a brief description of the scam. The Scam-Tracking Map, powered by Google Maps, features location-based functionality, allowing users with one click to view current scam alerts posted by residents of their own community.
Photo credit: Flickr/Lauren